They say when you love your job, you won’t work a day in your life. But what happens when you love your business partner?
Denton and Shalette East, the husband and wife team behind GoGSAT.com, an online business that helps students in Jamaica, have a firm grip on the love part of the equation.
But growing their business is a full-time job—and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I may wake up early in the morning, work four or five hours, then make breakfast,” said Denton. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding. It’s fun.”
GoGSAT.com, the Easts’ brainchild, helps Jamaican students prepare for the Grade Six Achievement Test. The company offers practice quizzes, homework help and online tutoring, with live instructors interacting with students in real time.
According to the Web site, GoGSAT has won two Jamaica National Innovation Awards in Science and Technology. Thousands of students have utilized their services.
In addition to running the firm, both the Easts are also doctoral candidates at Nova Southeastern University’s Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences (GSCIS). Shalette was named the department’s Student of the Year.
“Their motivation and success is to their credit,” said Eric Ackerman, Nova Southeastern’s director of Graduate Programs and assistant dean of the GSCIS. “It’s unique what they were able to do. They found the niche in their market and took advantage of it. We’d like more students like them.”
The Easts were born in Jamaica. Denton, 38, came to the United States in 2006. Shalette, 35, came to the U.S. in 2003. They share homes in both Parkland and Kingston, Jamaica.
They started out as teachers, but their focus on education and technical savvy pushed them to consider starting the business.
“The idea was my wife’s,” Denton said. “She got the spark and it took off from there.”
The couple divides the workload by their strengths. Shalette, whom her husband calls the “superstar,” is the company’s public face and a dynamic vice president. In addition to TV and radio advertising, she travels to the Caribbean to connect with schools and parents.
“Caribbean culture is different from here in the States. In the Caribbean, you have to walk and meet people and talk about the program, explain the benefits.
It’s a lot of grunt work and not necessarily all that glamorous, but my wife is relentless,” Denton said of her work ethic.
As the quieter half of the couple, he excels on the technical side, and admits that he prefers working behind the scenes. Denton oversees a small staff of people based locally and in the Caribbean. They review and produce material for GoGSAT.com, market the information, and monitor the online chatroom.
Recently, they opened a bricks-and-mortar education center in Kingston.
“We’re very selective. We look for people with the best qualifications,” he said.
The couple, who’ve known each other since high school and have been married 11 years, say they have a fertile partnership.
Sometimes, they have to hold off on new ideas because they have so many projects going.
One such project, the Partnership for Community Transformation Program, is aimed at preventing at-risk youth from joining gangs by improving their academic performance, and improving community relations with law enforcement.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force, Social Development Commission and United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) COMET project are partners in the initiative. About 80 percent of students who participated in the program in 2008 performed well on the GSAT, with many earning academic scholarships.
The Easts have also developed CaribbeanExams.com, targeting students in 17 countries, and are working on an FCAT test preparation site.
The biggest surprise, Denton said, is how well their venture has been received: “It’s the lives we’ve touched; the student testimonies. Plus the fact that we’ve gotten major institutions to work with us, in the U.S. and Jamaica, is really something huge.”
If the Easts are any indication, love can be a business asset—you just need faith in each other. “Sometimes, you can’t see the full potential immediately,” Denton said. “But if you wait to make everything concrete, you’ll never get off the ground.”
Photo: Denton and Shalette East