Janus Gyan, who was born and raised in Saint Lucia’s attraction capital, Soufriere, operates at the helm of what he refers to as a business eco-system under the name “Islander Group”. Its tentacles connect mainly three operations: a less than a decade-old, multiperson, private car transfer enterprise; three upscale villas and apartments named Serrena, Sapphire, Sargas plus a fourth, newly developing Saba; and a dedicated cluster of excursion specialists. Clients say it’s his insistence on intricate customer service that places this 32-year-old businessman ahead of the rest. As if features in Forbes magazine and USA today would not suffice, he has over 2,500 reviews on Trip Advisor, some from high-end clientele, to prove it.
When and how did your journey as an entrepreneur begin with the Islander Group?
Janus: I started all by myself at 24 years old. I was always geared towards doing my own thing. I’ve never, ever felt comfortable being within an office environment; it’s good experience but, at the same time, it just wasn’t my thing. I kept on asking myself questions; What is Saint Lucia all about? What makes Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia? If there was one industry we couldn’t do without, what would that be? A light bulb went off; tourism. I set up a travel website to give people information on various things related to Saint Lucia and then one day someone sent me this email asking “Hey Janus, what is the cost of a transfer from UVF airport, up to the north?” I called the different places down in the south to find out the price and decided to lower it. The client booked his trip a year ahead and I picked him up. That’s when I noticed there was a mega demand for private transfer in Saint Lucia. People wanted to be able to afford being picked up privately and taken to their resort.
How has the company grown since then?
Janus: I started by myself until I began to go mad when the emails would come in really fast and I would get them like every 20 seconds or so. I realized there’s no way I could’ve done this by myself and then I went on a hiring spree. Now we have about 30 persons working with us in the office, some from at home, we have the private transportation services, some working in the villas and we also offer private chef services. It’s all about making Saint Lucia an affordable place to visit.
What strategies did you use to build your business to what it is now?
Janus: I took advantage of the internet as a platform because it’s basically levelled up the playing field and made it possible for everyone to get involved. Also, we buy cars that are affordable, because, believe it or not, you can have a normal car and when the client sits inside, it’s so well taken care of they feel like they’re in a Mercedes Benz. Not just that, we manage things well. I’ve gone through so many crappy people that now I have the cream of the crop and that’s awesome.
How have the residents of Soufriere reacted to what you’re doing in the area?
Janus: I would say within the area that’s like the absolute best thing that can happen and I think the people also look at it like that. Because one, it’s really about jobs and that kind of stuff and two, you have some really, really awesome people that are coming to the island and they meet some of the locals. It’s often a learning experience on both ends. The visitors also go the stores and restaurants; they go to the places that the locals are hanging out, everyone has a good time.
Why do you believe Saint Lucia’s tourism industry will withstand the tests of time?
Janus: One thing is we’re within the Caribbean and the Caribbean is known throughout the world. Saint Lucia has this competitive advantage here where it boasts its natural attractions; places like the Pitons and the volcano. A lot of people, when they see that kind of marketing, they won’t want to go anywhere else. People will always want to come to Saint Lucia as long as we still have these competitive advantages and trademarks.
How has growing up in “the attraction capital” impacted the course of your life?
Janus: I was fortunate enough to be born in the attraction capital of Soufriere and as a kid my mom always used to wake up and worry about me. She has three kids and I used to be the troublemaker. She would always be like “where did he go?” Which Piton is he trying to climb right now? Is he on Anse Chastanet beach? I was that kind of kid. I had all this energy and the most important thing that I had to learn growing up was the fact that I need to direct that energy towards something that I like and want to do. That’s one of the things that parents don’t do. They would tell their kids, “hey you’re too troublesome!” But they don’t tell them “do that instead, use your energy towards doing something else.” It’s not necessarily that they’re troublesome they just don’t know where to direct it and that is the one thing that I’ve learned growing up.
Did your parents do that for you? And, how do you stay motivated now?
Janus: Oh no, I had to find that out the hard way. There’s no personal development speaker that you can name that I don’t know about, not one. From the Robbins, to Nightingales, to Grant Cardones of the world. A vacation for me is reading about Jeff Bezos–that’s like one of the most exciting things and he’s one of my biggest mentors, in my head. I do things like constantly ask myself whether I am satisfying my imaginery board of directors which includes people like Jack Wells, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates and Elon Musk. I imagine them saying, “What did you do today?” And I have to tell them what I did, so I cannot be like, “uhhhh.” So I go out and make it happen.
How do you take care of your mental health if you work so hard?
Janus: I used to go to bed at around one in the morning then wake up at 4:30 to go and do my run but now I’ve capped on that a little bit so I go to bed at 12 and wake up at 4:30 to go and run. If I don’t run I can’t really think. I also have my own personal gym so I would do my weight lifts and stuff like that. I try to eat as right as I possibly can but the most important thing for me is the running and the cardio.
Can you share one of the toughest lessons you’ve learned on this journey?
Janus: Well a few years after I left my first job, I was around 20-years-old, I basically started the first big shoe store in Soufriere and that was a disaster—people were not buying the shoes. I mean, I was importing these things and it was expensive to import. People’s habit at the time was to go to Castries to buy shoes so I ended up having to grit my teeth to pay all that stuff back. Looking back, I think it was pretty cool. I used to think to myself, “Oh my goodness, look how tough things are for you right now, you better figure out how to make it happen.” I think one of the most rewarding things about life is that sometimes things that seem terrible you end up learning a lot from it. All the challenges you face, you come back from it so much stronger and like you wouldn’t change anything about it and you want to do it over again.
What is your advice to aspiring entreprenuers who may be doubting themselves?
Janus: I generally tend to look at it from a perspective where we’re so finite, in terms of life. So you don’t want to wake up at 60 and be like, “Why didn’t I take that chance?” Because one day you are going to be 60, then 80, and you don’t want to feel regret or rather, what kind of regret would you prefer to feel? The regret of having tried something that failed or the regret of not doing something because you were terrified it was going to fail. So it’s like it’s not really just about starting your own business, it’s deeper than that. You really want to make something happen? You’re in a job that you don’t like; I’m not saying just quit your job, you never really do that, but you are going to have a lot of time after work where you can concentrate on doing things everyday to make your business happen.
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