Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 4th 2014 Contents SEPTEMBER 2014 • WEEK ONE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | BG7
There is a new online search plat-
form that helps to facilitate
searches for T&T and
Caribbean businesses, said Kris
Granger, product marketing
"The entire vision of how this was started
was to add to the local technosphere and to
move the entire Caribbean forward and using
technology to solve the region s problems. You
have the opportunity to see who are looking for
your business online and develop a relationship
with your customers," Granger told the Business
Guardian two Wednesdays ago.
F1RST is a Caribbean-based technology com-
pany that provides users with beyond-directory
data on businesses and places throughout the
Caribbean region. The platform is accessible via
a Web site and a mobile download for iOS and
The company, based in Long Circular, St
James, was launched six months ago and has
70,000 registered users, of whom 40,000 are
businesses while there are about 500 to 600
downloads a day of its app.
The chief executive officer of FIRST is Eesa
Mohammed. The company has offices in Bar-
bados and Jamaica.
Granger said the platform is a search platform
and a mobile app and Web site that facilitates
search for Caribbean businesses, turn by turn
directions, reviews, ratings, and general amenity
He said although the company was officially
launched six months ago, the groundwork began
four years ago with data gathering and market
Granger said F1RST is not the first platform
of its kind in the country, but it is the first with
this type of "robust" information.
"We are the first to use an open source platform
that allows users to come on to the system and
add to it to suggest and edit. It s similar to
Wikipedia. With other local search platforms,
you may find outdated information; with F1RST,
if you find an old phone number for a company
or business, you can modify that information.
Even with foreign search engines like YELP, there
is no data for T&T," Granger said.
He said if a business were to do an ordinary
search, it could find itself on Page 10 of a Google
"It is all about relevance, popularity and how
many back links. When I have a small business
and put myself in that space, I can get lost.
Studies show that people do not go beyond page
three or page four when doing a Google search.
When a company gets on F1RST, it gives itself
the opportunity to move up the search," he said.
Granger said F1RST earns revenue through
"If a company is trying to push their red soft
drink and someone does a search for roti, they
can have a certain number of key words that
attach them to relevant search categories. So the
name of the soft drink comes up when you type
the word roti . Of course, companies pay for this
ad space," he said.
Companies can pay for different types of
"The basic package is five key words and we
send a photographer to your business place which
is then used to enhance your F1RST profile. That
is $500. There are other packages which are
$500 and $1,000 per month, where you get
more key words and display ads. We do every-
thing for you, with photos, updating your profile,
your location tag and so on," he said.
Granger spoke to the Business Guardian at
Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi office, Hebert Street,
Granger said there are 40,000 local busi-
nesses currently registered with F1RST.
"Those businesses are from our maiden
programme where we went around and added
them before the user was even launched. Users
added some and businesses themselves added
some to the Web site. These businesses are
searchable, reviewable, rateable and findable,"
In addition, they have 200 clients, including
Unicomer s Courts and Digicel and in diverse
areas such as construction, restaurants and
"The clients are the businesses that pay for
top search, which is wanting to be found when
users enter key words and they pay to advertise
on the platform," he said.
He said if a business is interested in having
its profile in FIRST s database, it must first
search to find if it s already there as customers
could have listed it there. If the business is
not already there, then it can be registered on
"All this is free to register. Once the profile
is created, it is open to the public. We then
give the business a start up package, which
includes stickers that say find me here , posters
that say find me on F1RST. So when customers
come in, it encourages them to use the plat-
form. This builds the client and business rela-
tionship," he said.
He said FIRST has a "strategic relationship"
with Digicel, but declined to comment on how
large the investment is or the specific nature
of the investment.
"Digicel has invested in F1RST. In a very
Silicon Valley-type way, we were given a seed
investment to start the platform. We will con-
tinue to work with them as a retailer and as
a client. They advertise with us as well," he
He said F1RST is a model developed closely
on YELP search engine in the United States.
"It has the ability to do searches, get reviews,
give directions, and find out what deals are
happening in different stores and business in
the US in different categories. Their business
model is account management scale. They
have a marketing team, accounts team and
so on. For the hundreds of thousands of busi-
nesses on YELP, they want to have a rela-
tionship with them and there is one account
manager to every ten businesses, for example.
F1RST has a team of 40 people and 100 people
in the external team, who include designers
in Poland and data managers in India," he
He said employee make up is "young people
heavy" and is close to a Silicon Valley company
start up governance structure.
Granger said last year F1RST did a pre-
launch in Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados so
it already has a presence in other Caribbean
"We promote the company as a Caribbean
company. Other than the pre-launch, we have
not done much other than brand awareness
in the other Caribbean territories," he said.
Brandon Gransaull, product manager, F1RST,
said over the next six months it is going to
shift focus to adding businesses to the Jamaica
and Barbados platforms.
"The next stage will be St Lucia and other
smaller islands in the Caribbean. Then we
have to do the data processing in terms of
building data from those countries," he said.
Granger said the company is surprised by
its growth rate in T&T.
"We would not have expected such a high
growth rate. We started advertising, but then
realised we did not need to because it is grow-
ing so much. That is the beauty of the Inter-
net. On a day that we do not say anything
to the community, there are 500 people still
downloading it. In the local context, we are
the number one app in the IOS Store. I am
not sure how we rank in the Google Play
Store right now. We were at number one in
the regional application download at one
point," he said.
Gransaull said the application can be down-
loaded in three versions.
"There is the Web site, the IOS and the
Android and they are all free. We want to
offer a product where users feel free to use."
He said online advertising differs from the
older forms of advertising.
"Traditional forms of advertising, do not
give you a guaranteed method like putting
an add in the newspaper which does not
determine how many people saw the ad or
how many people come into the business.
With F1RST, it actually gives businesses real
metrics behind how your business performs,"
Granger said there is a decline of traditional
face-to-face and physical purchases compared
to online purchases on Amazon and other
"This is happening because we are not
online in a way that makes sense to the con-
sumer. Some businesses are afraid of making
that investment and F1RST allows you to be
found online easily. If you searched Lucky
Dollar, they would have been on page 50 on
Google. Now if you do the search, you will
find all of their photos, locations and other
information. Now they are relevant online.
We offer businesses the opportunity to be
relevant and be found," he said.
He said businesses can improve their serv-
ices because of this online platform.
"You have the opportunity to see who are
looking for you online and develop a rela-
tionship with your customers. We are usually
afraid of reviews in T&T ,but is gives the
business the opportunity to take that review
or criticisms and turn that into something
to improve your business," Granger said.
IT company F1RST
makes the link
Eesa Mohammed, CEO of F1RST, second from left, with the
other founding members: Kiev Wilke, from left, Kyle Maloney
and Nicolas Maloney. COURTESY: F1RST'S WEB SITE
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