Andre Worrell – The Cash King
When 50 Cent sang, “I get money, money I got”, little did he know he was creating hip-hop lover Andre Worrell’s unofficial anthem. Worrell, however, goes beyond cashing cheques. As the Managing Director of Cash Handling Supplies Limited – a business he started when he was just 23 years old – he helps companies to manage their cash operations.
Big, fat wads of cash need loads of protection. The reasons are obvious, and for companies dealing with hard, liquid cash on a daily basis, they need not just security in the form of guards, but also a way to efficiently manage counting and counterfeit protection. That’s where Worrell comes in. Cash Handling Services Limited (CHSL) provides five, money-handling products – currency counters, coin counters, counterfeit detectors, deposit locking bags (for the transfer of money), and counterfeit detection pens.
“We’ve got a concise product line because I believe in narrowing focus,” he says. “People in Trinidad think the more products you have, the more money you make. But I believe in being a specialist. People who fulfil specialist needs are the ones customers have to go to because only they have the specialist skills. That’s why a cardiologist makes more than a general practitioner.”
CHSL’s clientele includes insurance companies, financial institutions, supermarkets, cinemas, casinos, pharmacies, nightclubs, restaurants, racing clubs, health centres, funeral homes, automotive dealers and wholesale distributors – ensuring a steady stream of business. What makes Worrell’s story so impressive is the growth he’s achieved in just under two years of operations – with a wide client base and steady profits. Staffed with, you guessed it, young people, three full-time and one part-time, with the eldest employee being 26, Cash Handling Supplies’ has gained serious traction in the business community, and Worrell’s savviness was acknowledged in 2009 when he won the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs’ National Youth Award in the Category of Entrepreneurship.
While he’s in the business of handling money, it’s obvious that Worrell, now 25, didn’t become an entrepreneur for the sole purpose of creating a cash cow. He fits all the characteristics of the typical, successful young entrepreneur. Charismatic, articulate, and confident in his business savvy, he’s thrown old mentalities out the window in favour of being progressive and innovative in his approach to entrepreneurship. Looking at the big picture, especially through the lens of conventional, corporate T&T, Worrell dispels the notion that one needs to be older to have mature, business intuition. Admittedly, he does display a business swagger that people his age are still trying to achieve.
“Knowledge is potential power. It becomes powerful when you apply it to a particular objective.”
“CHSL is the best lesson I can get in business,” he says, as we chat at his Tunapuna office, late one evening on a public holiday. “Education isn’t just about book sense. I was invited to speak to some MBA students recently, and I told them, ‘What you’re studying, I am doing, and everything you’re doing, you’re not going to be able to apply it’. Business has a way of teaching you things that you’re not going learn in a classroom. The word education comes from the Latin word educo, which means to know, to gather, to obtain. Knowledge is potential power. It becomes powerful when you apply it to a particular objective.
“Early on I learned a lot about how people perceive young people and start-ups in business. A lot of people want to help young people in business so you get tremendous goodwill. However, while they want to help you, they may not necessarily buy from you. What you have to learn is how to convert this goodwill into a sale. As a prospective client, you have to convince me beyond a reasonable doubt as to why your product or service would be of tremendous value to me, and that’s what we set out to do. Business is a trial and error game so you’re not going to have all the answers at the start. So you prepare yourself with a list of FAQs (frequently asked questions) because you know people are going ask you stuff. We learned a lot about the security features of money because if we’re going to sell products to help in money management, we have to be able to answer questions that come our way.”
Worrell started the Company in July 2008 just a few months after graduating from The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, in November 2007 with a BSc in Economics (Upper Second Class Honours). His life before CHSL was typical for any new University graduate. Upon graduation, he became a research assistant, and soon moved onto a construction company where he worked in the marketing department. However, unlike most of his peers, he didn’t make a year of holding down an 8 to 4.
“Parents sometimes think that you have to make an immediate return as an entrepreneur, but sometimes it takes time…”
“It was a poor company personality fit,” he says of his construction sector stint. “The management of the company had no idea what to do with a young, fresh mind with all of these ideas, so they didn’t know how to deal with what I had to offer. I had the opportunity to negotiate, and so I opted to leave. I always had an entrepreneurial desire. I’d been working on several ideas, and settled on cash handling. I had some of my own money, but I needed some more to start up. I went to my dad who had just retired, and I said, ‘Dad I want to quit’, and he was like, ‘What are you quitting for? You just started working!’ I said Dad I have an idea for a business, and I need ‘x’ amount of dollars. Now he had his retirement nest egg. I said here’s the deal, ‘Who better to give your money than me? Let me lose your money instead of someone else.’ And he was like ‘in a strange, psychopathic way that makes sense’. So he gave me the money. I didn’t have many financial responsibilities save for a loan I’d taken to purchase my car. I left the job in January, registered the company in May, and got my first client in July 2008.
“The important thing out of that story is I had to deal with two very conservative people who were conditioned to think you had to go to university, get a job, stay in a job 20 years, and then you go after stuff in life. That’s a different time. Fortunately they didn’t push me away from what I wanted to do. Even though they didn’t understand, they were unwavering in their support. I guess they felt like they were investing in their son. To this day Mom still doesn’t fully understand what I’m doing, but I’m glad I have their support. Parents sometimes think that you have to make an immediate return as an entrepreneur, but sometimes it takes time, the way a woman carries a baby for nine months. The thing about being young is that you have time to go after your goals. Yes, you’re eventually going to grow and prosper, but the greatest thing about entrepreneurship is that in exchange, you have control of your destiny.”
“The greatest thing about entrepreneurship is that in exchange, you have control of your destiny.”
From its first year of operation, CHSL posted a profit – albeit a small one – and has been steadily posting wider profit margins. Now that his father’s investment has paid off, Worrell is focused on driving growth, locally and regionally.
“We’re not mature as yet, but we’ve passed the inception phase,” he says. “We’re in the market now. I’m trying to increase my total revenue by significantly more than last year and I feel confident that we’ll get it done. I have a really grand vision for what we want to achieve.”
I ask him if he’s worried about competition.
“Competition is always about perspective,” he says. “Because someone is doing something similar to you, it doesn’t mean you can’t add value or do it better. For example, Apple didn’t need to create an iPhone. Everyone was well served by Blackberry. But they created the product and added their distinct appeal. Sure in our industry there were people selling similar products, but we are the only company with a narrow focus on money-handling products. We’re the only company who specialises in these products. There’s another company that provides a similar service, but they service banks. We don’t. We don’t want to step on peoples’ toes, and we don’t feel we have the products that will suit banks, so we try to stay out of that market. You see, competition is also about respect.
“Because someone is doing something similar to you, it doesn’t mean you can’t add value or do it better.”
“Yes, there will always be competition but that’s why you have to do your research and be innovative. I had an Econ degree. What Econ teaches you is how to gather info, synthesise and analyse it. So I was able to research, check out people, check their unique selling points and circumvent that with my own creative way of doing business. I don’t play the price game. I know the quality of what I offer. There’s another company that’s just started and it’s trying to steal business from me. I’m not overly concerned because they don’t have as much traction in the market. You only know how good a company is when you’re in a crisis and have a problem.
“For example, I can sell you something, and it works well, but if it gives trouble, you come to me. If I can’t service your problem then what kind of provider am I? So the new company is going through a price war, trying to undersell, but we can focus on our specialist nature and keep our eyes on the prize. When you get into business it’s important for you to stick to your business for as long as it takes you to build your reputation. Do not be swayed or jaded by what other companies do. Don’t try to commoditise your business. Stick to it and see it through. We’ve built a sound reputation, so we’re not worried at all. We have a fantastic list of clients.”
“We need to have an evolution in the way we do business in this country.”
Worrell also has some strong opinions about how business is conducted, especially in the local context.
“We need to have an evolution in the way we do business in this country,” he says. “We have a lot of people with First World riches, but Third World mentalities. We have tremendous wealth but we have a poverty of the mind in terms of how we relate to competition, and develop enterprise etc. for example, if you’re a big company and don’t want to deal with a small company what are you saying? That there’s no room for small companies? That is asinine. If you do business with them, they go through a learning curve. How are you going to create big businesses of the future if you don’t deal with the small business of today? CHSL hasn’t had that problem though. We have large clients.”
Listening to him, Worrell strikes you as a business guru in the making – and it would seem that I’m not the only person who thinks so. Soon after winning the National Youth Award for Entrepreneurship, the Business Express invited him to become a columnist (which he accepted), and he was also a keynote speaker at the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Youth Forum. With an admirable track record so early in his journey through entrepreneurship, Worrell is definitely ‘getting that money’, and handling his business.