When an entrepreneurial spirit meets a compassionate heart, the potential to make a difference in the community arises; when those components are housed within the same person, world changers like Jed JohnHope arise.
WBM: Who is Jed JohnHope?
JED: Jed JohnHope is a Crucian [St. Croix born] entrepreneur, MBA student and basketball enthusiast eager to make a difference in the world.
WBM: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
JED: I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit – I ran a road-side fruit stand at the age of 6. But my greatest inspiration was Mark Ferdschneider of Caribbean Clothing. He gave me a job when I was 16 and it changed how I looked at everything. From then, I knew I wanted my own business.
WBM: What inspired you to utilise your entrepreneurial aspirations to help the needy, and can you tell us more about your current project?
JED: I spent my summer in financial services and after that I wanted to do something else. So, I just started vetting ideas during my summer-end vacation. I had several good ideas, but I kept coming back to Mercy Cards. It was definitely the idea that I felt most passionate about. I believe that it’s possible to do well while doing well.
As far as the concept…I visited a Chicago area grocery store and saw a few homeless people outside. I started thinking about what the next generation of homeless people is going to do. Everyone is carrying less cash these days, and we have forgotten this segment of the population. I figured someone has to solve this problem and it may as well be me.
WBM: How did you take your recognition of this problem and derive the concept of Mercy Cards?
JED: Hmmm…it was just innovation I guess. I like to think of pain points…what’s my major gripe when giving to the homeless? Either I don’t have cash, or I don’t want to give because I’m not sure what they’ll do with it. I figured everyone had the same issues. Mercy Cards was crafted to solve those problems.
WBM: Can you expound on how Mercy Cards will solve these common concerns?
JED: Well, Mercy Cards is just an open loop (Visa or MasterCard) gift card that would use technology to limit where the card can be spent; so someone could buy a card for someone to get a meal and rest assured that they wouldn’t use it for unintended purchases.
WBM: How has growing up in the Virgin Islands influenced your decision to pursue this type of venture?
JED: Hmmm…good question. I think because our island is smaller, there is a smaller divide between the haves and the have-nots. The person you see asking for money could be related to you, or you know them, and therefore you’re more willing to help.
WBM: So would you say that growing up in a smaller community made you more aware of the suffering and/or needs of others?
JED: Yeah, that’s fair.
WBM: How has pursuing this venture changed the way you view the world you live in?
JED: It’s actually reaffirmed my belief in mankind. People are amazing. The support that I’ve received thus far has been astonishing. That helps me continue to push forward with the project. Everyone realizes that homelessness is a serious problem, and people want to help anyway they can.
WBM: Was the idea always well received or did you encounter naysayers along the way?
JED: As an entrepreneur you have constant naysayers; that doesn’t take away from the fact that the net response has been positive, but that’s just the nature of pitching ideas. Everyone goes through it…Facebook, Twitter, Groupon – everyone.
WBM: Have you been able to take any of the criticisms and use them to strengthen your offering?
JED: Of course! You always use what you’ve learned to refine/repackage your offering, and addressing questions/concerns in real time always helps strengthen your pitch. I saw a quote from another entrepreneur recently, “you shouldn’t let one opinion sway you more than 5% in either direction.” That’s good advice for anyone starting a business.
WBM: That is indeed some good advice.
JED: Hey, it’s just the name of the game…people are naturally risk averse.
WBM: Is there anyone in the industry (entrepreneur/philanthropist) that you would like to see your career pan out like?
JED: [Laughs] Yes, Bill Gates…or better yet Steve Jobs. I want to fundamentally change the way that the world gives to the homeless. High aspirations…similar to how Gates/Jobs wanted to change the way that world uses personal computers.
WBM: So what does it mean to be an entrepreneur in 2013?
JED: Well, as social media has taken off, it has changed the landscape somewhat. Crowd-funding was definitely a game changer for entrepreneurs. Now you can raise startup funds through social networks instead of immediately selling a portion of your company.
WBM: So would you say that there’s an increased reliance on the support of the masses?
JED: Yeah…most definitely.
WBM: Define success.
JED: If when I’m gone, other people knew that I was here.
WBM: Why does what you do matter?
JED: My legacy is very important to me…not sure why…I guess it’s how I’m wired.
WBM: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment thus far?
JED: Starting an office for a multi-national corporation on St Croix.
Yeah, I did that few years ago now…that was my try at entrepreneurship; a great learning experience, great opportunity.
WBM: What is one thing that many don’t know about you?
JED: I’m a self-improvement fanatic…I’m always trying to one-up myself…I’m determined to not let yesterday be the best day of my life.
WBM: What’s next for you?
JED: Next? I just got Mercy Cards started! [Laughs]…too early to think about cycling off this. I’m sure I’ll do something else, but right now I’m laser focused on this one.
WBM: [Laughs]…it could be what’s next as far as Mercy Cards in concerned.
JED: [Laughs]…our goal is to raise startup funds and get the product to market.
WBM: Do you have any advice for those looking to pursue their goals and dreams?
JED: I’ll do better than that, I’ll give two:
1. Stop talking. Start now.
2. Remember the Rule of 168, which I learned from Harry Kraemer, former CEO of Baxter – We have a 168 hours in a week. No more, no less. It’s a gated position. If you really want to do something on your own, start thinking first about what you’re going to stop doing. What are you going to give up?
3. (I know I said 2, but this just came to me)
You don’t have to figure it all out before you start. Set manageable goals and just keep on kicking your can down the road.