It was two o’clock one April morning in 2013, and the University of the West Indies, Mona campus was quiet and cold. Lights shone from a few of the rooms on ELR Towers Hall as several students were up pulling all-nighters in preparation for upcoming exams. D’Andre Fraser, co-founder and CEO of Billodex Limited, was among them. In addition to a good grade in his business law course, he found that he needed a phone card, but none of the businesses on campus were open at that time, and he didn’t feel like going outside in the chilly night air anyway. So he turned to his friend Aundhrae Richardson and wondered out loud, “wouldn’t it be nice if we could just buy credit right from our phones whenever we wanted?”
From Idea to Launch
That was the genesis of the company and the app now known as Billodex, but the idea has evolved since it was first conceptualised. After giving it some serious thought, D’Andre and Aundhrae realised that the initial idea of selling phone cards from an app wasn’t as scalable as they would have wanted it to be, especially since they had designs on making it a global platform. They went back to the drawing board, and eventually came up with the idea to sell tickets, since they each had several years of event planning experience under their belts as well. “I’ve been doing events since I was 16,17. By virtue of that, I understand the needs of event promoters.
It was therefore a natural segue into building a ticketing platform that would allow people to buy and sell tickets from their mobile phones, and allow promoters to access analytics for their event, as the app would track ticket sales and revenue,” D’Andre explained. “That’s the basic version of what we do, and in the future, we’ll be building out those features to something very dramatic and very grand-scale.”
Billodex allows for the purchasing and redemption of digital tickets via smartphones. It offers great convenience for the customer, who doesn’t have to spend time and money driving to a specific location to buy or collect a ticket for an event. Customers can also purchase tickets for others, share with their friends and receive event updates on the go. Plus, there’s no need to worry about losing or misplacing tickets. For event promoters, the app provides analytics and real time updates on ticket sales, with additional marketing of events through Billodex’s social media platforms.
It also provides sales lead generation, with the names and email addresses of all purchasers, and saves promoters money by not printing excess tickets or losing sales to scalpers. Patrons can also purchase merchandise and other items such as ‘early bird specials’ in addition to entry tickets, using their smartphones, thus opening up new revenue channels for promoters to make more money. Safety is also virtually guaranteed, as the app’s 10-step security protocol also makes it the most secure online platform available in the Caribbean.
Even after they had ironed out what exactly they wanted the app to do, D’Andre and Aundhrae found that the process of getting from idea to having something to launch would be long and arduous. For one, they were both still at university (D’Andre graduated in 2014, Aundhrae in 2015), so they didn’t have any capital to speak of, and “technology is capital intensive,” D’Andre said. “Back then, we basically didn’t exist and we even didn’t have a product. All we had were some designs. We applied for an accelerator programme at StartUp Jamaica and were accepted; in fact our office is still located there.”
Things would soon get better in 2014, as Sandra Glasgow, founding member and manager of FirstAngelsJA, was StartUp Jamaica’s Project Manager. They shared with her what they were doing, and despite the bare bones nature of their presentation—“We didn’t have anything but some JPEG slides”—she liked what she saw. She later proved instrumental in helping them get an opening to pitch to FirstAngelsJA, along with several other entrepreneurs, in January 2015.
Pitching is already a stressful undertaking, but even more nerve-wracking when something goes wrong in the room, as it did for D’Andre and Aundhrae. “The projector wasn’t working, so we literally had to pitch and sell the idea right from our heads. Luckily, we had practised the presentation so many times, so we knew what we were doing, and it was successful,” D’Andre said.
They received the financial investment in August 2015 and began working on the organisation of the business alongside two board members elected by the Angel Network: Sharon Roper and Nevada Powe, with Michael Claire as the Independent Chairman of the Board. “That money was seed money which we used to build out the Billodex platform.
We hired a development team and built the product from there. We encountered a lot of challenges. We had to design and redesign and try to get it right. That took some time until we finally had a market-ready product in about April of this year. But right before then, we ran out of money in September last year and we had to pitch for a second round of investment in December,” D’Andre shared.
This time around, they were able to show significant progress in what they had built, and satisfied that they were on the right path, the Angels invested again. “We’re now here today with a beta product,” he said. “We’re trying to work out the last minute kinks, but so far, so good. It’s in the Google Play Store right now. It can be used, but it’s not the Rolls Royce that we want yet.”
The App in Action
The company’s first client was the promoter behind the annual Powerful Men and Women Perform for Charity event, hosted by the Mustard Seed Communities. It was held on June 4. D’Andre noted that there were a few minor glitches at the outset, but nothing that stopped the app from working. With their background in event planning and promotion, coupled with their ability to sell their product, Billodex already has a number of other promoters lined up to work with them.
That ability to sell both themselves and their idea is what D’Andre credits as the key to the duo securing two rounds of investment in such a short space of time. “Investors don’t invest in the product, they invest in the people behind it.” he said. “It couldn’t have been the product, because we didn’t have one. We only had some JPEG slides and an idea. But we’ve built the product that we sold to them. We’ve delivered on our promise and now we’re in business, finally.”
“There was no way we could have self-financed this,” he continued. “We believed that this was the right way to go, approaching FirstAngelsJA, and not just because of the money, but the expertise behind them. We have a world class board of directors. So far, they’ve been advising us what to do and what not to do, because you can get all the money in the world, but you won’t know how to use it and spend it efficiently. In entrepreneurship, there’s no such thing as knowing everything. We’ve been learning ever since.”
D’Andre recalled that in the early days, one of the board members even offered to invite them to his house for one entire Saturday so they could work on rebuilding the app from scratch. This kind of personal investment, along with key governance structures, have been critical to Billodex’s development thus far, giving the young entrepreneurs and their team a broader vision for the company and how far the app can go.
One prospect that exists for any successful app developer is the chance that his product might be snapped up by some major tech giant, turning him into an instant millionaire. D’Andre wouldn’t be averse to going that route “if somebody comes along and says they want to acquire us for a number of zeroes,” but that is not their end goal. “The first thought is to keep your head to the ground and not bank on something like that happening. At the end of the day, we just want to move forward and see how far we can push this platform, how far we can push the idea and the vision,” he said.
Angels For The Technology Industry
Based on what angel investment has done for his company, D’Andre would like to see more seasoned businessmen and businesswomen step into the void to provide guidance to entrepreneurs just coming up. “There are a lot of captains of industries throughout Jamaica. If you’ve reached the top of the mountain, in order for the younger ones to grow, you have to share the knowledge instead of letting them try to figure it out and spend 10, 15 years trying to start a business,” he said. “It can be seen as a form of giving back. Being an angel investor is much more than just making profits, it’s about giving back and helping someone to add something to society and by extension, improving the economy.”
In speaking for his industry, D’Andre pointed out that there are many great ideas and products with potential that have been developed, but the lack of a clear vision and proper guidance and governance prevents entrepreneurs from really capitalising on their creations: “That’s the biggest help any entrepreneur can get from an angel investment—guidance. That’s even more important than the money, because you can get an investment of a billion dollars to build a company, and then run out of cash. You might build the company, but with a little expertise and guidance, you could have used only 10 million and still been successful. Guidance is key.”
His best advice to other entrepreneurs who may be looking to secure angel investment, particularly his fellow techies, is to ensure that their ideas or products are well researched, and if built, done well. Keeping abreast of information on competitors is also a good idea. “Know and understand the value that your product can provide to the market. Know your numbers. If you can’t do your financials, why would anybody want to give you their money?” he said. “When you’re pitching to investors, you’re not only pitching the product, you’re pitching confidence. Be confident in your product, and be confident in your numbers.”
D’Andre is confident Billodex will continue to grow as online ticketing becomes more popular in Jamaica and the Caribbean. “Our product is finished just in time for that wave,” he said. “Also, the vision doesn’t stop here in Jamaica. We intend to do our first event in Trinidad about six months from now.”
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