I gave a talk on the state of the New Orleans tech community at TribeCon on Thursday Oct 25, 2012. This post is a transcript of the talk.
Identity, Talent, Ambition
Since we’re gathered here at the Tribal Council of geeks, I want to talk about the three things I believe are important at this moment in our journey as a tech community: Identity, Talent, Ambition.
Before we start, let’s define where we are. Brad Feld wrote the book on entrepreneurial ecosystems says it takes a 20-year commitment to build an ecosystem. Today marks the 4th TribeCon, I mark the early days of Net2NO and the SXSW road trip bonds that formed our Tribe so we’re about 5 years into the journey.
The early days were about identifying the community, figuring who was doing what, getting to know each other. The next stage is about establishing our identity as a community.
We all know that New Orleans has the necessary ingredients to be a tech hub, those are the reasons we all live here. But who should be here? What types of companies should we be building?
Identity is all about celebrating our beliefs, the core values we share as a community. We need to identify what makes us unique, which leads to focus, and then we win because we find our “unfair advantage” - what types of products should be built here because of New Orleans’ natural advantages.
We know what New Orleans identity is: Music, food, architecture, art, and maybe add the port, energy, even education reform…but mostly soul
We’re a place that has such an identity, we’re iconic. And in this identity we have the raw ingredients of our tech communities identity.
Layer in the fact that technology is in the fabric of all pursuits now.
It’s already happening. Since TribeCon last year, Peter and I have set our sights on product development.
Peter is building BarNotes, an social app dedicated to the art of the cocktail. And it launched in New Orleans, the city that invented the cocktail. Peter has an unfair advantage launching BarNotes here… access to people passionate and expert in the art of the cocktail. He launched with an influencer strategy at Tales of the Cocktail with early adopters who are adept at social media and who know a good cocktail - New Orleans can be very powerful influencer.
Neighborland was at TribeCon last year and chose to launch in New Orleans because of the civic engagement of the community. I believe New Orleans as a platform to launch a product because of the our natural ingredients of our community will prove to be a model that is used again.
Establishing our identity as a tech community will be an organic process and it is a journey, I believe as we look back 15 years from now, our identity as a tech community will be closely tied to the culture ingredients we are already rich in.
Thanks to Michael Hecht for opening up today’s event and to GNO Inc for believing in TribeCon and underwriting the even this year.
One of the things GNO Inc does is meet with “site selectors” who represent companies considering moving operations to New Orleans. I imagine these meetings take place at Gallotires and and after the third martini when the cigars are lit, they get down to brass tacks. Michael says, “OK, so what is your greatest hesitation with moving to New Orleans?”
Now, I’ve been to these meetings… the answer to that question always is: “We’re just not sure that New Orleans has the talent.”
Has the talent?!?? That statement should get you as hot as Sean Payton watching the Saints on the couch, because I know we’ve got the talent. I’m looking at it right now.
But perception is reality, so let’s dig in. They are talking about the makers, the creators, the builders. Software engineers, UX/UI designers, iPhone developers. You are the 21st century talent in our industry.
Do we have talent? Well, we don’t have enough of you, but New Orleans has always been a city teeming with creative talent. We’re the most creative city in the world and technology is the creative pursuit of our time.
We’re the city that created America’s only original art form - Jazz music. People travel from the world over to taste the cuisine of New Orleans and Louisiana. A generation of american writers have been inspired by the FQ and the visual arts cover our city in beautiful art.
So what is it about our environment that inspires and attracts talent? What is it that makes this city is a creative muse? Let’s figure out what inspired all that talent, because it’s probably the same thing
It is a vibrant and historic place. Its an authentic city with soul. People here care about culture and creative pursuits. Here your heart is connected to your pursuit. This is why we all live here, we are the new creative class in New Orleans. We just need more of us.
Part of this will happen naturally. We built Launch Pad to be New Orleans tech community’s Ellis Island and I meet people moving to New Orleans every day. All we have to do is nurture everything that makes this place great.
The other part of it is to continue to offer opportunities for the talent we have to become the technology talent we need. We need to continue offer opportunities for education and training. The workforce development training at Delgado. We need to continue to apply pressure on Tulane invest in building a world-class engineering program. We should be begging CodeAcademy to open up here. And I will sponsor every Hackathon anyone in this room ever wants to produce.
Most importantly, we need to provide those educational opportunities to anyone and everyone in this city. We all know we’ve got amazing creative talent in New Orleans… they may just not be writing code yet.
The final ingredient is ambition. It goes hand in hand with identity. In order to be the best place do build a _______ company, someone has the build the best ________ company. This is not about New Orleans it’s about you.
We’ve got to think bigger than this place. It’s about being the best anywhere. Not the best in New Orleans. This takes audacity, confidence, fearlessness. It takes ambition.
The first step to being the best anywhere is to go everywhere. We all love New Orleans and identify with it, but as Steve Blank would say, “its time to get out of the building.”
From the very first bus trip that Net2NO organized to SXSW where TribeCon was born, an important part of our community being the best has been to establish a worldwide network. The best CEO I know, Patrick Comer of Federated Sample once said to me, if you’re CEO, and you sit in Launch Pad all day, you’re not doing it right.
Ambition is aspiring to greatness. Aspiring to be the best is what drove Perry Chen. He graduated Tulane, was bouncing back and forth between New Orleans and New York and decided he wanted to produce a show at the CAC. He needed $15,000 to produce the show, but he couldn’t afford to risk his own money. If only there had been a way a way to pre-sell tickets to that show, he thought. Inspired by that moment, he decided to start a little company called Kickstarter. His ambition led him to create a platform that funds more creative projects than the National Endowment for the Arts, and he is part of the New Orleans network and is deeply committed to our tech community.
One of the most ambitious companies in technology right now is GitHub. It is the plumbing on which the internet is being written. GitHub is a virtual organization because all they care about is talent and they want their employees to work where they chose to live. Well this summer, after John Barnette went to work at GitHub, they opened an office in New Orleans at Launch Pad. And now they’ve got two employees working in New Orleans, the team vists and hangs out Capdeville and they are proving that the next generation of tech companies will work everywhere.
If people and and businesses think big, they don’t have to be “somewhere” to succeed. In fact, more and more they can and will be “anywhere.” What’s important here is that New Orleans is a part of the broader ecosystem. Whether you launch your product here, build your company here, work virtually here it expands the network for all of us when New Orleanians aspire to greatness.
So today as we are gathered together as with our tribe of geeks, I leave you with this…. Let’s go get ‘em!