Photograph by Don Nolte

Photograph by Don Nolte

January 2014

Trinidad and Tobago Native Founds ProLocal

Paul McDonald

Originally from the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, 30-year-old Potrero Hill resident Kieron Sinnette recently co-founded ProLocal, a startup that enhances the effectiveness of neighborhood merchant groups. Located at 350 Rhode Island Street, ProLocal emerged from Sinnette’s work with the Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association (PDMA), which included developing website content, database management, member recruitment and relations, and launching social media strategies. 

Sinnette started ProLocal with encouragement from Brad Vaccaro, owner of Allpointe Insurance and a PDMA board member, who Sinnette met through a Craiglist employment advertisement. He’s delighted to now be at the center of what he believes is a small-business revolution after years of perseverance through grave and trying circumstances. Sinnette’s life since he emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago more than a dozen years ago has been fraught with drama, homelessness, and persistence through smarts and determination. 

When he was 16, Sinnette graduated from his country’s equivalent of high school, having taken double the requirements of the normal Island curriculum. Rather than the usual five topics required by his native educational system, he took on ten, including science, English, accounting, computer science, biology, Spanish, and economics. In retrospect, he says that he took on more than he should have, and underperformed due to the academic load. But he felt compelled to challenge himself to demonstrate both his wide ranging intelligence and his determination to get off the Island, move to the United States and establish a successful career.

Sinnette comes from a relatively privileged upbringing in Trinidad. His father had a notable government position, and was a maritime businessman. But when Sinnette was a teenager his father left the family to pursue another relationship. At the time his sister, who is six years older, was attending Texas Southern University (TSU). He decided to join her, arriving in Houston when he was 16. His first job was at Wendy’s, which opened his eyes to how customer service and business in general works. Like his sister, he enrolled at TSU, studying pharmacology. Soon after he was abruptly shunned by his conservative family when they discovered he was gay. Feeling abandoned, and with roughly $2,000 in his pocket, he decided to move to San Francisco, knowing no one. At age 18, he bought a one-way ticket on a Greyhound Lines bus, and was dropped off at the depot then located underneath the freeway on Third Street.

Feeling confident that he’d quickly find a job, he stayed in a hotel off Union Square and burned through his savings in two weeks. He was broke and homeless. He spent a night at a shelter that only provided him a chair to sleep on. He roamed the City the following night, sleeping on the street, tried the same shelter again, and was told about Larkin Street Youth Services in the Tenderloin, which serves “at-risk” 16- to 24-year-olds. The organization proved to be his savior. Sinnette spent six months at the center, taking full advantage of all the services offered, including securing a $6-an-hour street cleaning job. He said that he “followed the rules” at the nonprofit, which propelled him to get a job at a seedy Travelodge off Bayshore Boulevard near the Cow Palace, making around $11 per hour. 

He intentionally left the Larkin Street facility on his 19th birthday, moving into a one-bedroom flat with three other people in Visitacion Valley. Always perusing newspapers and the Internet for better employment, he landed his first job in finance at a California Federal bank in the Marina, and was later being transferred to a branch in the Castro. That job led to his next, a position in operations for Oppenheimer Holdings, which enabled him to rent his own place in Twin Peaks. Sinnette then spent two years in Honolulu, Hawaii, working as the financial aid director for Paul Mitchell System’s cosmetology school, further expanding his résumé. 

When he returned to San Francisco, Sinnette was hired by Vaccaro, which created the basis for his current position as co-founder and chief executive officer of ProLocal. He says his talents lie in compliance issues, adeptly identifying errors in data and correcting them. His new company has already organized three Mission District merchant groups, combining their efforts and eliminating duplication, thereby creating new avenues for growth. Mild mannered, soft spoken, intelligent and driven, Sinette hopes to parlay his company into supporting nonprofit organizations and expanding far beyond San Francisco. 

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