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N Touch
Saturday 24 March 2018

Natalie nails IT

A PIONEER in her own right, Natalie O’Brien at first comes across as a quiet unassuming woman. It’s just about noon as she enters the crowded room for our interview; she recognises me right away and takes a seat. A few minutes go by and we are chatting like we knew each other a lifetime.

Despite being a young woman firstly in a male-dominated industry, hailing from south and a relative unknown in a big pond, O’Brien still continues to make waves without even knowing. What’s remarkable is that as a self-taught Information Technology (IT) professional, she was building websites from scratch even before the days of GoDaddy.

For those who aren’t familiar with this platform, GoDaddy and Wix are websites where designs, templates and step-bystep instructions are accessible online for a fee, where virtually anyone who is a little tech savvy can build their own online space. In the olden days, only the real IT pros knew how to write HTML code and build a website from the ground up.

O’Brien admits that IT just happened one day. “My parents bought me my first computer and my uncle installed the Internet… they wanted me to pursue accounting, but after fiddling around the keyboard, in no time at all I was hooked. IT was in my blood!” She says it has since grown into a passion and she likes that the field is always evolving and never repeated.

After getting her first break at age 18 with a small company to do graphic design, soon larger IT companies got wind of her work. “One thing just sort of snowballed into another, I transitioned from the ‘front-end’ doing design and layout to the ‘back-end’ as a webmaster where I developed programmes, software and networking.” Not yet 40, the young entrepreneur has amassed over 15 years experience in IT and graphic design, working in the private sector, but she says her true love is software development.

In 2010 she founded her own company NOB IT Solutions, the goal of which she says is to bridge the gap between what is currently offered to small and micro businesses/enterprises (SMEs) which are her main target.

She is currently working on a Business Intelligence (BI) software which is designed to analyse a company’s raw data both past, current and predictive so as to help in managing all aspects of business operations, including finance, sales (CRM), operations, HR, marketing , e-commerce and web solutions.

She opens her PowerPoint presentation to explain further and beams about her vision, “it’s low cost, easy to install, easy to use, customisable and affordable… even NGOs, business and financial institutions can keep track of clients with this software and recommend it to their customers.” In her business consultancy, O’Brien offers a personalised one-on-one customer experience as she holds the client’s hand and walks them through the different steps, showing them the right way to utilise the Internet and more. “I know IT can be a bit intimidating for most people, but don’t be scared, ask questions and shop around.

There are no stupid questions.” She knows that other small entrepreneurs may not be tech savvy, nor have the time to do research with cost also being a factor, so she designed her rates at affordable prices to work within the tight budgets of her clientele. Yet it has not been an easy road as the entrepreneur admits Trinidad is a hard market.

Funding for her software development is a challenge. She explains why, “Our culture is such that generally people have little confidence in local products and services. Collectively we as creators and innovators have to inculcate consumer confidence in our respective brands.” She also admits market research is difficult to obtain as people don’t like to share information.

“I am currently seeking volunteers for my needs analysis to determine challenges when it comes to finding the right IT solutions.

However, people think that you are invading their privacy but this is slowly changing as persons are becoming more open.” On the positive side, O’Brien says there are more support programmes for entrepreneurs within recent years which have helped build a solid foundation.

These include CARIRI’s Business Hatchery, The Ministry of Labour Small and Micro Enterprise’s Fair- Share, Launch RockIt and networking opportunities like Arthur Lok Jack and TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

You may wonder where this dynamo gets time for anything else. For the past couple years she has been focused on nothing but work as she builds her business, but hopes to reignite her love for the outdoors. The young entrepreneur says her goal is to enter a triathlon by age 40 since she enjoys hiking, biking and gym.

She also loves dancing which she credits her mom for enrolling her in when she was seven to study ballet, contemporary, Latin and ballroom. She also enjoys the arts, theatre and culture, but her stress reliever these days is crocheting which she learnt in two months and now sells crocheted dresses, hats and baby clothes to her friends.

What is the vision for her business you might wonder? With a gleam in her eye, she manages: “I want to become the Microsoft of the Caribbean…a household name for SMEs. I also want to own a bed and breakfast chain throughout the islands with my hotel and cruise ship experience.” As she uttered the words and we got ready to leave the plaza in the slight drizzle, somehow I immediately knew she meant business. Watch out TT! For more info: emailinfo@ nobitsolutions.

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