* Entrevista publicada originalmente en la edición de Abril de 2015 de la Revista Americas Quartely.
Every entrepreneur aims to reinvent the world, but José Contreras went one step further by reinventing his identity. The 28-year-old Guatemalan, who has brought a social media marketing technique called “neuromarketing” to companies in Central America, not only established a new firm called iLifebelt to promote it; he gave himself a new name.
Under the name “Jose Kont,” he has used neuromarketing to help clients improve their product packaging, develop effective billboard designs, and make websites easier to navigate. As Kont explains it, neuromarketing goes beyond traditional marketing surveys, which ask for consumers’ verbal or written responses to marketing campaigns, and uses methods such as eye-tracking to analyze physical responses to stimuli—like webpage banners, product packaging, music in movie trailers, and scripted call center dialogue. The end result, he says, is a more targeted and honest report on what consumers want or need.
Kont says he changed his name (and dropped the accent) to make his e-mail address more distinguishable. He applied the same ingenuity to his company, which he founded in 2012, after participating in an entrepreneurship competition hosted through the organization Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) and the Incubadora de Empresas Emergentes de Guatemala (Guatemalan Emerging Businesses Incubator—IDEEgt).
Now employing a staff of eight in Guatemala City, iLifebelt dedicates about 30 percent of its time to neuromarketing studies and the rest to producing advertising campaigns, which includes developing social media strategies for businesses and organizations.
Kont initially funded the company himself, working part-time for three years to save money. Despite his efforts, the company lost several clients in its first year. “Without the support of my family and friends, the company would not have continued,” he recalls. “I learned that year, you constantly have to keep renewing.”
Neuromarketing studies don’t come cheap. Clients typically pay between $3,000 and $8,000 per study. However, Kont hopes to make his services more affordable to startups and grassroots entrepreneurs through the development of technology that uses predictive algorithms and statistical models instead of expensive equipment. The company eventually hopes to provide eye-tracking evaluations for only $10 to $20 per study.
Along with improving its techniques, iLifebelt also established the Observatorio de Audiencias Digitales de Centroamérica (Digital Audience Observatory of Central America), which studies the use of Internet and social networks in the region. Instead of charging for Observatorio’s studies, Kont allows users—marketing managers, business owners, universities, students, and NGOs—to download them for free. “This is our contribution to society and to the region,” says Kont.
A serial entrepreneur, Kont also started SourceTour in 2012, which helped tour guides from Mexico and Guatemala promote themselves online and receive payments electronically. Although SourceTour has since dissolved, it became the only Guatemalan startup to enter Wayra, a business startup accelerator founded by Telefónica that funds and mentors new companies. For his work on SourceTour and iLifebelt, Kont was deemed one of Guatemala’s “brilliant minds” by the national paper Prensa Libre.
Currently, iLifeBelt’s clients include Chili’s, Transexpress, Multiproyectos and Fundación Adentro, and the company has conducted studies in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. The firm hopes to open offices outside Guatemala within the next five years.
In 2015, the company will launch technology that can track the eye movements of as many as 40 people at a time. “This new technology will allow us to reach Latin America and help hundreds of marketing and advertising agencies become more efficient,” says Kont.