“Empowered, Not Enabled.” – A Conversation with Laura Borland, President & Co-Founder of the Vyllage app

Laura Borland, MBA, is the President & Co-Founder of Vyllage, Inc. Born and raised in Jamaica, she has been a Florida resident for over 25 years and is an alumna of Barry University and Florida International University. She is a Distinguished Past President of Kiwanis Club of Sawgrass Sunrise and a former Board member of the Covent of Mercy Academy Alumnae Association Florida Chapter.

Vyllage is an app that connects users with vetted homeowners in their neighborhood who can receive their deliveries and packages on their behalf to reduce package theft or missed deliveries. For a nominal fee, $3.99 to $5.99, customers can be certain that their purchases will be safely waiting for them when they arrive home. They’re notified by text, email, and even get a photo sent to them showing the package that was delivered. It’s that simple. The free Vyllage app is available to download for Apple devices at the App Store and for Android devices on Google Play.

1. What is your connection to Jamaica?
I am 100% Jamaican. I was born in Kingston and attended Our Lady of the Angels Prep (OLA) on Molynes Road. Then, blossomed from a girl to a young lady at Convent of Mercy Academy (Alpha) on South Camp Road. I grew up in Red Hills and spent my entire youth at St. Richards Church.

2. Are you a business person, entrepreneur, or both?

Even though I’ve had experience in owning a business, I consider myself to be an entrepreneur. In almost every situation, I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve upon processes, mentally testing out new scenarios, and what those outcomes would be. I like to test new ideas and conceptualize on a high level what I envision the finished design to be.

3. What was your profession before you started your business Vyllage?
I’ve had three main areas of employment. As an educator, I taught high school in Jamaica and the United States. I worked as a Quality Engineer for an electronic manufacturing company. My last, and current, place of work is a Product Owner for a multinational financial services corporation.

4. Who or what motivated you to start Vyllage?
One morning three years ago, Sean (Vice President and Co-Founder) and I were getting ready for work. We were watching another news story where there was video footage of someone’s package being stolen from their patio. I said to Sean that it would be great if we had a neighbor who would be willing to accept our packages for us so we would not have to worry about them. Sean’s response was that we would abuse the neighborly relationship due to the sheer number of packages we receive. I agreed but then raised this question, “What if we could monetize it?” And from that conversation, Vyllage came to be.

5.  Did you face any challenges in mobilizing your capital?
Everything for this business: App development, trademarks, intellectual property protection, etc. has come from our own pockets. Raising capital for software is very, very challenging as there’s no real way to quantify how much return on investment the lender o investor can expect.

6. Tell us about your business.
Vyllage is a nationwide network of package receivers, affectionately called Vyllagers, who make money ($3-$5 per package) by allowing their neighbors to use their home address as the shipping or delivery address for their purchases made online or by phone. Vyllage is not a job. It is a turnkey business: a micro-franchise where Vyllagers get to name their location, set their hours of operation, and determine how much space they want to dedicate in their home to their business. The only requirements are:

1) Vyllagers must own their home.

2) Vyllagers must be home during the day when 70% of packages are delivered.

3) Vyllagers must pass a background check.

The beauty of Vyllage is twofold. First, people who are home during the day (retirees, wounded veterans, persons with disabilities, stay at home parents or caregivers) have a legitimate way to increase their households’ earnings. Second, by using Vyllagers to receive purchases and deliveries, it takes away the angst and nervousness of wondering if the thing that you ordered will be there when you get home.

7. Many businesses have a moment they call their “big three breaks”, whether it be a news story, a big contract etc. Have you or your business had that “big break” yet?
We’ve had two “close” big breaks during our development phase. We were called from Shark Tank twice but we didn’t make it out of the first round because we weren’t fully functional. Then, while we were testing out the proof of concept at a booth we had at SXSW, we were approached about exclusive licensing opportunities outside of the U.S. (Australia, Africa, and the Nordics). Our biggest break to date has been the news segment that was done on ABC’s South Florida station: Local 10.

8. Currently, what is your biggest business challenge?

Our biggest business challenge is the press. A national media story from a credible source will begin to pique the interest of thousands. This would ramp up our efforts in increasing our Vyllager footprint. The goal is to have a Vyllage location in each of the 43,000 ZIP Codes in the U.S., with even greater saturation in densely populated cities and suburbs.

9. Other than the money, what types of satisfaction do you get out of your work?
I love the community-driven message of Vyllage. I love the idea that we can use technology in a way that allows us to communicate face-to-face by having that conversation. Imagine, when you’re walking your dog in the evening, and you stop by your Vyllager to pick up your package. You’ve now contributed to that Vyllager’s livelihood while in turn, that Vyllager has protected your neighborhood by ensuring no package is left outside as a temptation for nefarious persons.

10. What motivates you on a day to day basis?
I am motivated by the far-reaching impact I know Vyllage will have globally. From a carbon-footprint reduction to making this petty theft issue obsolete to offering micro-business ownership in a macro sense. We just have to keep pushing the knowledge around this daily.

11. How do you motivate people that aren’t close to you and enable them to see your vision?
My passion when speaking about Vyllage is very contagious and evident. I try to be clear about the value proposition that Vyllage represents because we are at the phase where brick and mortar retail is dying, and online purchasing is increasing. Whether you’re a Vyllager or a customer, you stand to benefit from this business.

12. How do you remind yourself of what’s important?
When blessings abound, reminders are scarce. I am very close with my family. I have a small network of friends whom I’ve known for at least 20 years. I know the world I want to see: empowered, not enabled. I know the best outcomes happen collectively and not individually.

13. What time do you wake up and do you have a routine?
I’m not really a morning person. I don’t wake up to the day singing and being cheerful. However, in the last two years, I am becoming that morning person. I wake up around 6:30 AM and I try to do a 2-mile walk, before taking a shower and getting ready to launch into the day. I hate traffic so I try to start my day very early before the traffic so that I can leave before the evening gridlock gets underway

14. Do you have any hobbies
I love watching Formula One racing and journaling. I know they’re two extremes, but I like the balance of dizzying speed with the slowness of introspection.

15. If the economy crashed hard and there was no more room for you in the business sector, what would you do with yourself?
I would teach again. Single-handedly, my favorite profession. I loved every aspect of it, except not having a living wage.

16. Seven days, six nights, all expense paid, my vacation destination is…

Rockhouse, Negril. Those bluffs are mesmerizing.

17. My favorite guilty pleasure is…
Chippies (I sometimes add extra salt) and Game of Thrones.

18. My favorite Jamaican food is…
Seafood. Full stop. I don’t care what it is, how it’s done: Please to put plenty of it pon my plate. Oh, and nuh put nuh rice or food fi stretch it.

Be sure to visit Vyllage’s website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google Plus, and Pinterest.

About the author

Xavier Murphy