Jeff Hoffman is a serial entrepreneur, author, TV and movie director, music producer and motivational speaker. Jeff has received numerous awards for his work in supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses. He is passionate about innovation and teaches workshops on the subject to corporations across the globe. We managed to grab Jeff for five minutes after his presentation at the CINEX Smart Investment Summit and asked him some questions about business, innovation and Curaçao.
If you could give one piece of practical advice to a budding entrepreneur with an idea, what would it be?
The most important piece of advice I would give is to make sure that you are actually solving a problem. Here’s the test: Is the thing you are working on something that you keep trying to convince people of? When the product is finished do you hear yourself saying, “Seriously, you really need one of these!” Are you building something where your clients keep calling you and saying, “When can I send you money? Is it finished yet?” I always tell people, if you are solving a real problem, people keep looking over your shoulder and saying, “Are you done yet? I need this thing. When can I get it?”, and they have their credit card in their hand. Most entrepreneurs are working on something that they hope to convince people to use, so solve a real problem that people really want fixed and are willing to pay for.
You spoke today about income equality and how “blessings” or opportunities are not distributed equally. What can the business community in Curaçao do to address this issue on our island?
On a local level you can’t save everybody, and you can’t always make it better for them, but what you can do is teach people how to do it for themselves. Teach them how to go and get their own blessings. It’s not about sharing the blessings, what I’d really rather do is to show you how to go get your own. People talk about problems here and things they want to improve. If we can equip them with the entrepreneurial toolset so that they can go fix it themselves – I think that’s a lot more sustainable than giving somebody a blessing.
As a small island nation, we have a lot of advantages, but we also face challenges. You have traveled to 95 countries. Have you been anywhere where you think they are really doing things right?
Yes, one of them was mentioned here today and that was Estonia. The reason why is because they are starting top down and bottom up. The people spoke and the Government listened and said, “We want to help you to create.” One of the things written on my whiteboard is “Ideas are welcome here but execution is worshipped.” Everybody has ideas all the time but not everybody picks up a shovel and starts digging. But it’s not so easy: If you’ve never built anything before, you don’t know where to start. So Estonia said, “Let’s meet in the middle.” People in their country who had never built a company said, I want to start a company, but I don’t even know where to start so the government created eRegistration. They were one of the first countries to say, “We are going to make it painfully simple for you to start a company”. Online, it takes you like five minutes. That’s an example of a country where they met in the middle. The government said, “How do we make it easier to encourage business?” and the people said, “Here’s a list of the things we need you to fix”.
You’ve been here twice now. What would you say is the greatest unique thing that Curaçao has to offer?
It has flavour. The people here have opinions. There are lots of different people here who like different things. There are different kinds of music. There’s art and culture. For a small island, there’s a lot of flavour. At the start of today’s session, there were all these people who came up and talked about the different things they were working on; from the food festival to the music festival to cultural things. Flavour I would define as so many things mixed together. It’s not just one thing going on. There’s art, there’s business, there’s culture. I like that. It’s a culturally rich place.
Finally, you ran out of time on your presentation and joked about coming back next year to finish it. If you could fast forward to this time next year, what development or achievement would you most like to see on the island of Curaçao?
There’s a couple. I would like to see more Public Private Partnerships happening. We talked about the orange economy today and we have big goals in that area. But for these objectives to be met, we can’t have the government working on one thing over here on their own and some corporations here and some individuals over there. The countries around the world that have done it right did PPP Public Private Partnerships and so what I’d like to see when I come back is.… Let me make one problem up just as an example: Let’s say there was traffic congestion, I would love to see the government say, Hey! We are putting out a challenge – the specific challenge of public and private working together to solve the same problem that everybody cares about. But that’s not how it is today. Today we heard about different programs, but we didn’t hear from entrepreneurs. We heard from governments and we heard from corporations. We heard from institutions who are working on their own thing. We haven’t taken a needle and thread and sewn that together. That’s what makes things really exceptional – public and private working together.