Cuba: Building a business without good internet access

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Will Grant (BBC, Havana) reviews business in Havana, focusing on one example of a thriving shop: the design store named Clandestina. The moral of the story is, “Yes, you can build a business without good internet access.” Grant writes:

If you had to choose a spot from which to set up an international brand, the chances are you wouldn’t pick Old Havana. The crumbling colonial heart of the Cuban capital is undoubtedly beautiful and its bustling streets might inspire creativity among your team. But it is also loud, hectic and, most importantly, almost completely offline.

Still, a small shop on one of the old city’s narrow streets is trying to do exactly that. Under a sign in the shape of a T-shirt, Clandestina design store began in early 2015 with a simple idea. “Design is not unique in Cuba, but what is maybe unique to us is commercialising a space for Cuban designers,” explains Leire Fernandez, co-founder of the brand.

Often, such shops are defined as “art galleries” or similar euphemisms in the complicated process of obtaining a private business licence in Cuba. Clandestina, however, is unabashedly a shop. “I think timing for us was really important”, explains Idania del Rio, the other business partner behind the venture. “We opened only three months after Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced the ‘new era’ in Cuba-US politics and I guess we benefited from that a bit.”

Business has been brisk, almost from day one.

Their emblematic slogans – including “Actually, I’m in Havana” and “99% Cuban design” – adorn T-shirts, handbags and posters. Their products have been selling fast and the small shop is often full of free-spending tourists. Thus far, the team at Clandestina have done almost everything by themselves and by hand. They print their T-shirts using a silk-screen press at the back of the shop, for example. It is slow and laborious work and at times it’s been difficult to keep up with demand.

Now though, the brand is expanding beyond the island. Firstly, they’ve moved part of their production to the United States. Idania shows me videos of their T-shirts coming off a factory line in South Carolina.

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Mechanising the process will produce many more units than last year – but reaching customers abroad, beyond the tourists who wander into the shop in Havana, has always been a challenge. So, they have moved into e-commerce and built a website. “We discovered when we launched the website that there are not only people in the States who are interested in us”, says Leire Fernandez as she pores over the latest sales figures. “There are people in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, you name it, who want to buy our products. So our focus now is to put Clandestina on a global stage.”

Launching an online clothing site might not sound that innovative, but Cubans and visitors to Cuba know how complicated and costly it can be to get online, even for an hour.

Now try to imagine running a business that way. The two entrepreneurs use the public access wi-fi in a nearby square, sitting with their laptops amid people walking their dogs or playing dominoes.

Things are slowly improving in internet access. The Cuban government has installed more wi-fi spots on the island and the cost of an hour online is much lower now than two years ago. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.bbc.com/news/business-42775368

3 thoughts on “Cuba: Building a business without good internet access

  1. Well, I think the business activity and chances becomes doubled if t here is availability of high speed internet as it is the cheapest way of communication to get connected with in entire world. high speed internet also resulting into massive growth in e-commerce and business.

  2. High-speed internet access for small businesses is the need of the hour. In the world, we live in where raging competition ensues amongst rival brands, there is definitely the internet which brings forth betterment of such establishments. Not only does it opens new doors for market penetration and development, it also helps in creating a brand personality through an online presence.

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