(SNO) – Things are going so good for OJO Labs, the artificial intelligence (AI)-driven company headquartered in Austin, Texas with a branch in Vieux Fort, that they currently on a hiring frenzy of sorts.
Starting this month – yes, August – they are expecting to hire and train at least 24 full-time employees EVERY month, and over 200 full-time employees by the end of the year.
Of note, the company announced in late June 2018 that it had 78 full-time employees.
And no, the OJO hiring news does not stop there. It plans to hire 500 full-time people by the end of 2019 and 700 by 2020.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, in a post on his Facebook page on July 31, 2018, stated: “Every month commencing this August, Ojo Labs will be employing 24 new Saint Lucians. Below is the link to apply. All the best!”
When the company opened its “start-of-the-art” AI contact centre – arguably the first of its kind in the Caribbean – at the Hewanorra Freezone in November 2017, its co-founder David Rubin had reported that the company intended to hire 200 to 300 full-time people within the first two to three years of operation.
However, at a press conference in late June this year, fresh from meeting with the Cabinet of Ministers, Rubin gave reporters the much higher employment numbers.
“I am very happy to report that the Saint Lucians have exceeded our expectations, both in terms of speed and accuracy for the AI training jobs. And it exceeded our expectations for our customer engagement jobs as well
“So like I said we have 78 full-time employees now. We will be hiring a minimum of 24 people per month starting next month (August). So our current plans, assuming everything goes as we expect… to have over 200 full-time employees by the end of this year, 500 full-time employees by the end of next year, and 700, which will put us at full capacity in the south by the end of 2020. So this is two to three times the amount of employment that we originally talked about bringing to the island,” he explained.
Rubin said the company has continued to promote employees in entry-level positions, noting that because Saint Lucian workers have far exceeded expectations, 15 promotions were issued within the first nine months of operation, with an additional eight expected in July 2018.
But OJO labs has not been in the Saint Lucian market without scrutiny. The company and its ‘local partner’, the Government of Saint Lucia, have been criticised for the government’s reportedly large contribution to the payment of wages to OJO employees, as well as the concessions to the company.
Responding to questions from the media on this matter, Rubin said “initially” the company needed “subsidies” but pointed out that OJO Labs obtained USD$20 million in funding in May 2018. He did not say where those monies came from and likely he was not asked.
“Initially we did need subsides. We are a start-up. The prime minister (Allen Chastanet) came to us and asked us to come back to the island, knowing we had operated on the island previously, knowing that we have built a culture that is caring for the employees,” he said.
The media did however asked Rubin to disclose the amount of money the company has invested in the project versus that of the government.
He said: “So your question is how much money are we gonna put back. So we’ve already, in terms of the software that we’ve built, we’ve put in over EC$8 million into that development of that software. This year, net of any subsidies from the government – so this is our money – we’ll have over EC$5.4 million. And if you look at our plan for hiring this year, and up until 2020, starting in 2020, we will be providing over EC$14 million on a yearly basis when you look at compensation, the technology we’re building, and other costs involved. Our intention is to give a significant return of investment to the island, and it is important to us personally to do that.”
Rubin along with his American counterpart John Berkowitz are the founders of OJO, and they both have ties to the island, according to the “Our Saint Lucia” government magazine, which further stated that John not only got married here but his previous company Yodle boasted 180 employees. The publication said Rubin owns property in Saint Lucia.
Berkowitz had told Our Saint Lucia: “We are super thankful to have people that are passionate and want to work for us. It’s a great opportunity that we are proud of, and it’s a great responsibility. As the CEO, it is my job to ensure this company thrives, and there are a lot of people counting on our success. There are families in Austin, Texas, and Saint Lucia that need us to succeed, and we take tat responsibility seriously.”
Below is an article on OJO Labs by Senior Communications Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, Nicole McDonald.
Progress Report: OJO Labs makes Saint Lucia a Caribbean leader in new technology (February 2018)
This is a feel good story. This is a story about real change; about opportunities; about young people on the move. This is a story about trips that show results and about having a vision and seeing it through. This is a story about sustainable employment. Employment you can take to the bank! The following is not about three month or six month contracts extended or ended at the whims and fancy of some. The following is about young people learning a skill that they can have all their life, to start their own businesses or rise through the ranks.
This is a story about Ojo Labs. This is a story about long-awaited southern development and the Government of Saint Lucia changing the status quo of concentrating efforts only in the north of the island.
Just over 14 months ago Prime Minister Honourable Allen Chastanet flew to Texas to meet with David Rubin about an idea to teach Saint Lucians something unique and cutting edge. All over the world we have seen developing countries take advantage of technology, under the current administration no longer will our country be left behind. This is inkeeping with the Government’s agenda to create diverse employment, including technology.
For those who don’t know, David Rubin was part of a successful company in Saint Lucia called Yodle, and was head of sales for three years, first as SVP of Sales and then as Chief Revenue Officer. David has a proven 20 year track record as a successful CEO and sales leader in the technology space. He has a record of several successful tech companies. An added incentive for his newest venture was that David also loves Saint Lucia.
In March of last year following several meetings with the prime minister and Invest Saint Lucia, what we now call Ojo Labs began to take shape. The joint venture between the Government of Saint Lucia and Ojo would be located in the south and focus on employing young people.
During a visit to Saint Lucia in March 2017 and following a presentation to Cabinet, Rubin said: “We have some experience in my pervious company employing Saint Lucians on the north side of the island. We employed 150 Saint Lucians in mostly call center operations and one of the things that really struck us with Saint Lucians was how good they were with computers and how good they were at multi-tasking. It turns out that the latest company we have started, Ojo Labs, is on the forefront of what we call Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).”
Mr. Rubin gave an overview of what the company does, stating: “We are building the first automated intelligence assistant for the real estate industry. The initial industry is real estate but it actually has applications across different industries. So it’s technology and neural networks that can respond to consumers’ questions and inquiries and do that mostly automatically.”
The Saint Lucia operation, he explained at the time would employ artificial intelligence trainers.
“These A.I. trainers will actually be tagging communications from consumers and teaching the machine what the intent of those consumers are. Based on what we saw in our experience in employing Saint Lucians previously we think they would be excellent at this job. We are going to combine that job with some opportunities on the call center side and think that we will be able to employ quite a few people down south and are quite excited about that.”
Flash to November 2017 and Saint Lucia opened the first artificial intelligence (A.I.) contact center to be established in the Caribbean. Forty agents have been employed at the facility which is housed in the Hewanorra Freezone within one of ISL’s factory shells, which was retrofitted to specifically accommodate the agents in a state-of-the-art facility.
However, since Ojo Labs was announced by the Government of Saint Lucia there have been those who have criticized the decision, with no real substance behind the objections.
Has the Government partnered with a private company to train Saint Lucians? Yes! Is Government contributing to the income of Saint Lucian young people in this cutting edge industry? Yes! Is Government making a sustainable investment with Ojo Labs? Yes!
It’s easier to dismiss the naysayers when you meet and see the faces of the vibrant first group of Saint Lucians employed at Ojo Labs.
Prime Minister Chastanet saw this first hand when he visited the facility this week and heard the stories from the excited youth who are learning a new trade at Ojo Labs.
In fact Ojo is on schedule to employ approximately 300 agents within the next few years. We have a feeling you will be hearing much more about this innovative initiative as more of our young Saint Lucian citizens continue to benefit!
VIDEO: Government of Saint Lucia announces the latest investment for the community of Vieux Fort (March 2017).