How 2 Jamaican Brothers Tapped Into The Nostalgia Trade And Raised $675K With CaribShopper, On Mogul Watch

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Jamaican brothers
Jamaican brothers Tennyson Preston and Kadion Preston co-founded CaribShopper, an e-commerce site for buying and selling Caribbean products. Photo provided

Jamaica-born brothers Kadion and Tennyson Preston followed in their mother’s footsteps.

They would help out on weekends and holidays when their entrepreneurial mom imported goods into the Caribbean. Now living in Florida, the brothers took it to the next level, launching e-commerce site CaribShopper in 2016. The platform helps Caribbean-born people buy products they grew up on — and miss — from more than 150 online retailers in the U.S.

CaribShopper simplifies the shipping, delivery and the exchange-rate process. Recently, the brothers added a platform for entrepreneurial island residents to sell their products around the world.

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As of 2017, around 4.4 million immigrants living in the U.S. moved here from the Caribbean, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Many live in Florida and New York.

It’s common to feel nostalgic for items you grew up on. However, getting these items directly from the Caribbean has been a challenge. Kadion and Tennyson are working on bringing famous and up-and-coming local island brands to their U.S. customers.

Some of the product “must-haves” for immigrants include Crix crackers, Chief curry powder and Chippies banana chips, Kadion told Moguldom in an email. They also crave Tastee patties, Bridget sandals and Walkerswood jerk seasoning. Dresses from famous Caribbean designers are in demand, along with Black castor oil and spices.

We are looking forward to being a part of helping residents grow in the region as producers and not just consumers.

Kadion Preston, co-founder and CEO of CaribShopper, an e-commerce site for buying and selling Caribbean products.

The brothers attracted the attention of potential business partners and venture capitalists after becoming finalists and pitching for Revolution Capital Group’s Rise of the Rest Tour.

Kadion spoke with Moguldom about their recent Rise of the Rest experience and how they are focusing on building the Caribbean ecosystem.

Moguldom: Why did you start CaribShopper?

Kadion Preston: It started from a conversation with my peers. We were trying to figure out ways to get packages to family members living in the Caribbean. Everyone we spoke to from the islands living here in the U.S. was also having the conversation, and they were tired of the challenge of trying to ship directly to loved ones. We were tired of it. I wondered why e-commerce wasn’t that simple of a process for them. Using my tech background, I started starting doing research and seeing what reasons were preventing the growth of e-commerce in the region. The more my brother and I went down the path of looking at this challenge and how to solve it, we realized that finding a solution hit home closer than we thought.

Moguldom: Was it always your intent to become an entrepreneur?

Kadion Preston: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Our mother was an importer. Trading and importing goods into the Caribbean were already a part of our genes. Of course, her practice was manual, but I can remember helping the family business on weekends or on summer holidays. So I understand it and it has become second nature to me, growing up in a household and seeing that entrepreneurial and innovative drive from my mom and my father, an engineer. My mom started her business from zero and grew it to something significant. She definitely bolstered the drive of becoming an entrepreneur.

Moguldom: What have been some of your challenges since starting CaribShopper?

Kadion Preston:  There are two main challenges to the growth and success of our business. One has been the need for improvement in the payment infrastructure. It’s one of the reasons that has held back the growth of e-commerce in the region. CaribShopper pioneered converting cash into credit in a matter of seconds. Consumers, even if they don’t have a credit card or any form of digital payment, can shop online by going to one of 12,000 locations within the region, hand a cashier their cash, get a receipt, load that pin number to our app or on the web on their account. Instantly they have the cash available to shop at any of their favorite U.S. based retailers. It took us almost eight months to resolve that problem.

Being a new company trying to convince partners this is the way it should be was a Herculean business development move to make happen. But we did get it to done in the end.

In five years, we see ourselves becoming a notable brand within the Caribbean community around the world and known for the place that you could go when you want to find products around our culture.

Kadion Preston, co-founder and CEO of CaribShopper, an e-commerce site for buying and selling Caribbean products.

The other challenge has been navigating the logistics. We’re still navigating it though, but I think we’ve gotten better now that we’ve been in the business just shy of three years. We have definitely navigated both of those challenges and surpassed them. We think we’re at a better position logistically for the region today and we are improving on payments and alternative forms of payment to be processed on our platform for online shopping.

Moguldom: Your company was selected for the Rise of the Rest tour. What was your experience like?

Kadion Preston: The Rise of the Rest team was very professional. From the get-go, the process was well outlined. It was an exciting time being selected and getting a lot of mentions on Twitter from notable people and even getting articles written about us prior to the competition was pretty awesome. It gave us some strong visibility.

Moguldom: After speaking with David Hall, one of the managing partners at Revolution,  it is clear the goal of Rise of the Rest is to help give exposure to the companies who participate in the competition so they can be introduced to other opportunities. Do you feel as though that’s happened for CaribShopper? What immediate benefits have felt since participating in the tour?

Kadion Preston: We did get the benefit of exposure. We also got that benefit of a light being shined on our company. Since then, we’ve had more meetings with VCs and we’ve met more local business partners we are currently talking to now. The exposure was great and I would recommend it for any startup trying to make an impact in their area.

Moguldom: What have been some notable wins, beyond being accepted for the Rise of the Rest pitch competition, since launching the company?

Kadion Preston: We are proud of our advancements in the payment industry in the region. Being selected as a partner for Mastercard in the Caribbean and Latin region was awesome. Getting selected for Techstars in 2018 out of 600 companies was another notable win. Expanding our company to six Caribbean countries was also a great win. We recently just got into the Endeavor program under Endeavor ScaleUp which was awesome.

Moguldom: What are your thoughts on building a good team?

Kadion Preston: Finding the right person that fits the culture, understands the message and wants to be a part of the mission is important. There are a number of notable team members that we’ve picked up, they’ve all bought into the mission significantly. And that helps with moving the needle forward in being innovative in the space.

Moguldom:  Although Revolution didn’t invest in your company through the Rise of the Rest competition, you had raised money previously. How much have you raised and from who?

Kadion Preston:  With a pre-seed round, we raised capital from Cox Communications, Techstars, and a family office in Miami. We also injected cash into our business also. Total we raised about $675,000.

Moguldom: Where do you see CaribShopper five years from now?

Kadion Preston: That’s a very interesting question because as we speak, CaribShopper’s model is pivoting. When we first started the business, we were solving the problem of making e-commerce more accessible for Caribbean consumers for U.S. products. But as we grew into the space we changed our model because we saw a greater need for elevating Caribbean retailers and manufacturers on one central platform that would allow for people around the world to be able to buy their nostalgic Caribbean goods — the goods that they grew up on.

Because of the mentorship from Techstars, now with Endeavor and the help of our mentors and key people in our organization, CaribShopper is moving into being a niche marketplace where we’re focused on bringing the Caribbean community closer by promoting their local goods and services. We still will allow U.S. products to be purchased on our platform, but we will be the one-stop shop for both U.S. and Caribbean retailers.

CaribShopper will be one central place catered to the Caribbean community worldwide and that’s an exciting journey for us. We are looking forward to being a part of helping residents grow in the region as producers and not just consumers. In five years, we see ourselves becoming a notable brand within the Caribbean community around the world and known for the place that you could go when you want to find products around our culture.

There are two main challenges to the growth and success of our business. One has been the need for improvement in the payment infrastructure. The other challenge has been navigating the logistics.

Kadion Preston, co-founder and CEO of CaribShopper, an e-commerce site for buying and selling Caribbean products.