Meet one of the VISTA+ VI Assets: Virgin Islanders not only working in STEM fields, but leading amazing work in their industries and representing the territory.
Junior Gaspard was born and raised in the Virgin Islands. He graduated with a marketing degree from the J. Mack Robinson School of Business at Georgia State. From salesperson to CEO, Junior has devoted his career to growing and developing SaaS (Software as a Service) businesses. In his interview, he expresses his hope for the future of tech in the Virgin Islands. He says, “technology is transformative, and you don’t have to be an engineer or product person to get into it. From the potential financial rewards to [the] critical impact you can have on the world, tech is one of the best places to be, especially if you can be in paradise, there in the Virgin Islands.”
For those who may be just coming across this blog, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
My name is Junior Gaspard. I’m a native of the island of St. Croix, born and raised in St. Croix. I have a lot of immediate and extended family who are still here so I’m very much connected to the island. I went to Evelyn Williams, John H. Woodson Junior High, and then Central High School. I spent a short semester at UVI before I moved to Atlanta, GA. I’m a fan of nonfiction, I’m a big fan of sports, fan of music, all types of music, and then a huge fan of technology, which is how I ended up in the career path that I did. I always loved technology from when I was a little kid and my brother got a Commodore 64, to now.
Do you think there was a pivotal moment that helped shaped your career interests? Can you share that moment?
There were a couple of things. I think my general interest in technology started when my brother got an old school computer system when I was young. I was just fascinated by its capabilities; you hit a button on this thing and this thing happens on the screen. I had a lot of thoughts about how technology like that would eventually impact the world as I got older. Then, I was into the technology you’d imagine as I grew up whether it was video games or electronics and TVs and all that stuff, I was just into it, but again, more from the impact and utility than like the building of it. From a career perspective, my initial goal was to be a teacher and my major was early childhood education. But as I learned more about technology and the impact that you could have at a greater scale and amount of people [you could reach] from a technology perspective, I just got more into [tech] and decided to make the transition.
Thinking back to when you became interested in tech, what programs or resources do you wish were available at the time?
My entry into technology was really simple, I decided I wanted to work in technology. My experience that I had as an undergrad from a professional perspective was in sales and it was people related and people-focused. I started applying for sales jobs with technology companies. I started in a sales role and then moved up in my career over time, with a couple software companies here in Atlanta. But I give you that context to say that programs that educated me on the career paths available in tech would’ve been great because [growing up] I didn’t know that sales could even be part of a technology company. I also learned that product is a discipline within companies as well, there is somebody whose job it is to say what is it that we’re going to build, what’s the time in which we’re going to build it, what trade-offs we will make, and what’s the functional goal will be; I didn’t know that existed. I didn’t know that quality assurance, making sure that we don’t have bugs in a product, existed. I would say I missed something that [would have helped me] understand the roles that exist within the technology world and the economic opportunity and financial opportunity associated with those.
What are the top skills you encourage young adults to develop when they’re getting started in tech?
In the Caribbean, we tend to be friendly, empathetic, and very social. Regardless of if you’re in engineering, product, finance, accounting, or sales those skills of communicating, connecting with people, being authentic and genuine, and all those interpersonal skills would be close to the number one thing in terms of success.
The second thing I’d point to is really learning the engineering and coding skills that it takes to understand the way code comes together to create so many of the things that we use in our life. Even if it’s not your jam or not your journey in life, just understanding how the technology works and how the engineering and coding come together to build these apps is invaluable.
Can you talk a little more about how being from the Virgin Islands has influenced your career path?
First, being able to connect with people naturally helped me. When I [started in tech], I was open to connecting with people and learning more. Second, growing up in the Caribbean, you tend to be comfortable in a lot of different environments and with going with the flow. The flexibility that I grew up with in the Caribbean, helped me a ton to deal with being in a technology company, especially early-stage startups because things change all the time, and you have to keep it fluid, you have to be flexible. Growing up on an island where you dealt with being in a tropical place, dealing with hurricanes, going to the grocery store and not being able to get the item you wanted, etc. I learned to deal with it and be flexible which helped when I moved to into the technology world.
Can you talk about what you’re doing right now?
I got into technology through the sales channel. I joined an email software company called Silverpop, an email platform used by big brands like JetBlue, BMW, General Mills to manage their outbound communication to customers to track opens and clicks. As a sales manager, I was responsible for negotiating and closing business with big brands. When I joined Silverpop was small, probably 20 people, and we had just raised a round of venture capital funding. Over the course of 9 years, we grew to 400 people and my role changed from an individual salesperson to leading a team as a director. When we bought another company, I became the GM of the new product line within the Silverpop world. It required me to spend a lot of time in Fargo, North Dakota, which, as I mentioned earlier, was a time where I had to show flexibility. Over that time, ultimately, I was responsible for a multi-million-dollar line of business for a company that was ultimately sold to IBM, one of the largest technology companies in the world.
In the second part of my journey, I joined another startup called Scoutmob, a mobile advertising for local businesses platform which is here in Atlanta. I joined when we were 7 people, and we raised several million dollars. We went from 7 people to 50 people, and I came in as the head of sales to build out the sales and some of the operations functions within the company. We grew a ton and closed a bunch of businesses across the country. I learned a lot, but after a couple years that business pivoted, and I wanted to do something different.
I joined another startup called Experience which was a mobile application specifically for the sports and entertainment world. I joined again in sales, but then expanded my role into product. Ultimately, we grew the business to almost 100 people and we were acquired by Cox Enterprises. I moved into the CEO role where I served for 3 years after coming in as a VP of Sales. COVID had a big impact on the sports and entertainment industry and that business for a whole host of reasons ran into a ton of challenges. Now I lead a new business focused on allowing people with unique assets to offer up ownership in those assets, cool dividends, experiential things, to their audience. I’m the CEO of that business, we’ve got a small team, but we’ve got some funding. That’s been my journey, so sales, manage people, VP of Sales, VP of product, Chief Revenue Officer, CEO, and now second time, founder and CEO at this point.
How would you define tech?
Teamwork makes the dream work. I would sit with the engineers to understand how [they build products], and how they do what they do, what challenges they ran into. That became even more important as I became the CEO, because you have to think about both technology and business. Tech is business and that business side of a company doesn’t go away just because it’s technology. All the things that you typically need as part of a business are still there, even in the technology world. For example, at my most recent company, we had salespeople whose job it was to close and maintain relationships with customers, we had an accounting team, we had finance folks whose job it was to do the billing and the management of the process and sending our statements out to our partners, we have marketing people whose job it was to market our services, we had customer service people to help fans who had issues when they were at an event and needed help with their mobile experience to do that. All those things have nothing to do with coding or developing technology, but they were critical to us becoming one of the biggest players and working with over 200 brands across all the major sports leagues and Live Nation. I believe that all great companies keep product and engineering at the center of the mission because, without them, you don’t have anything to go bring to the market you don’t have a business, but you need those supporting services around a technology business, typically for it to be great. There are some exceptions for sure, but most of the time you need a really robust supporting cast in order to make the star shine.
What do you think is the future of the tech industry?
I think there are a few areas where we’ll see big changes. One is in VR, virtual reality. As people get more comfortable with Zoom and all the elements that these platforms bring to the table that VR and AR, augmented reality, will become a bigger part of just our overall economy. A second area is in blockchain technology. I think you will see more and more businesses move to use the blockchain as the record of truth for certain businesses to verify documents credentials, because of the immutable nature of the blockchain. We’ll see some intermediaries go away or start to use a blockchain in a way that you just don’t see today. I think you will also see tremendous advances in artificial intelligence. Specifically, tools that use AI to enhance productivity (i.e., writing emails for you that sound like you, cold calling customers, digital assistants that become more and more life-like, etc.)
What is your vision for the US Virgin Islands in the future? How do you think that your work will impact the US Virgin Islands?
The role the RT Park is playing to demonstrate the possibilities of entrepreneurship and technology is really important. My vision is that eventually, there will be an exit or two that happens from businesses within the RTPark, which can serve as a foundation to fund new businesses, that then turn into something bigger. Eventually, we’ll build up the ecosystem of people who are familiar with the life cycle of technology businesses and be a beacon to attract people back from the States and other places who are looking for opportunities in St. Croix to be at home. I think it will unlock new opportunities and provide seeds for the next generation of successful businesses and some people coming back.
A fun one! What’s is your favorite food or dish?
There’s a place that I experienced for the first time when I was home last month called Eden’s Vegan and it was phenomenal. But more locally, I think you could never beat a good saltfish pate. And then a Johnny cake from Chicken Shack.
To look for your next tech job in the US Virgin Islands, visit http://vistaplus.vi, a workforce development initiative of the RTPark. The jobs posted require skills for a variety of positions including coding, engineering, product development but also sales and management so there is definitely something to suit your needs. VISTA+ is a great place to start your journey as the VI’s tech economy grows.