Starting Up in Cuba Today: A Helpful Guide
Starting Up in Cuba Today: A Helpful Guide
Technological entrepreneurs in Cuba not only offer solutions for cellphones and computers, but they are also capable of creating such products as Conoce Cuba, an idea developed by two Camaguey-born youngsters, Eliecer Cabrera and Pablo Rodriguez, who three years ago decided that lacking of access to the Internet wouldn’t be an obstacle for their project.
What’s Conoce Cuba?
Pablo: Conoce Cuba (Getting to Know Cuba) is not a catalog as such, but an advertisement and search directory where people find what they need. Since the very beginning we gathered information on hospitals, currency exchange houses; nobody paid for this information, but it was important. We later used the same platform to advertise the emerging Cuban entrepreneurial sector, private businesses, and we presently have travel agencies, hairdressing salons, restaurants, cafeterias, cellphone workshops, event organizers, and it’s all tagged on a map that, with an integrated GPS, helps users know their position and find all those services.
We give self-employed workers and institutions the possibility to advertise the events they are going to carry out in a certain period of time, as well as to post new offers related to St. Valentine’s Day or Father’s, for instance.
Eliecer: That was the initial vision, but we’re currently enhancing it. Just as its name specifies, this is an app to get to know Cuba and we want people to learn more about the island. That’s why we’re writing articles on different topics and we’re working on regions, instead of specific projects, we’re working on the history of parks, towns, so people not only learn about the business world, but also about Cuban culture and origins. The articles published by ConoceCuba are exclusive because we have a significant amount of contributors.
We’re also targeting foreigners with this new version. Most of them come here and their smartphones become useless due to the connectivity conditions in Cuba, therefore, they lose the information they would normally google on the Internet. They don’t have access to maps, for example, so ConoceCuba is not only useful for the Cuban people, but also for visitors, since they find with us all the details they need on services, businesses and pieces of news.
How is the work in Conoce Cuba?
Pablo: There is a lot of work. It’s not easy at all because we don’t have a platform to support us or facilitate what we do. That’s why many of our collaborators are relatives, friends of ours or friends of our friends, or classmates we met at college.
Beyond the numerous collaborators that support us and suggest new functionalities, Eliecer and I are the base of ConoceCuba and we both program the app. Eliecer develops it for Android smartphones and I do it with Iphones.
Eliecer: Pablo is in charge of the marketing area, talking to the people, looking for new customers, and I deal with the organizational part. But we do whatever it takes to boost the project and we discuss every step we take.
Which have been the main difficulties you have faced?
Eliecer: At the beginning, people were kind of afraid of technology, or reluctant. There were business owners that, due to age matters, didn’t see the use of our app, or they didn’t think that something like this could be done in Cuba. But we finally reached out to a group of people who liked the idea and joined us in this journey. We’ve been pleased to receive comments from our first customers about the amount of people that have gone to them after seeing them in ConoceCuba, or people that had contacted them from other provinces to ask about different services. That’s when you realize that it’s quite useful and its impact is real.
Sometimes we are out in the street or in a bus and we see people opening the app to look for information on the nearest ATM, for instance, and they don’t know who Eliecer or Pablo are, but they do know about our work and that’s what actually matters.
Pablo: People are the biggest difficulty we’ve dealt with. I’m talking about that have just entered the business world and know nothing about the scope of advertisement. Being a pioneer is always hard and making people understand what we do has been the main obstacle. There are people that just don’t understand how far their business can go.
How do you benefit from this, in economic terms?
Pablo: We charge the inscription in the app and we also charge new offers or the promotion of events, depending on how customers want to do it. As for users, it’s free. Those who want to be included in the information displayed by ConoceCuba are the ones to pay.
Pablo: We’re working to include ConoceCuba in the official international market, in Google Play, but we haven’t been able to do it because of the US Blockade. We’re trying to have people coming to Cuba with the app installed in their smartphone. Or we want to simplify the installation and use of the app in iPhones, for example. There are many people that don’t download in other countries because of security issues or respect to the internet provider, and we want to get around that barrier.
This offline app features a song –written and sang by Reni (Reinier Falcon) - which indirectly advertises the product. It’ll be officially launched with the improved version of ConoceCuba during the Entrepreneurs Expo to take place in Havana. In the meantime, you can listen to this Cuban son that speaks about the Cuban society, about what we are and where we come from, just as Eliecer Cabrera and Pablo Rodriguez do with their knowledge.
CONOCE CUBA on Social Media:
Written by Beatriz Rosales Vicente / PanamericanWorld / Havana