This new series interviews New Orleans area entrepreneurs who are launching startups and have participated in one or more of the local accelerator programs.
The Idea Village is a non-profit that supports entrepreneurs and innovation in New Orleans as well as producing the annual New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW). Through their commitment to sustaining the local entrepreneurial community, the organization engages entrepreneurs through three startup accelerator programs: IDEAx, ENERGYx, and DIGITALMEDIAx. Each is an intensive 12-week accelerator focused on creating scalable and fundable businesses in New Orleans across a range of industries.
One of the most recently ENERGYx graduates, Brittan M. S. Breaux, joined the program with his venture called The Offshore Exchange. The oil and gas industry startup provides a logistics management platform and online marketplace to implement shared logistics models and optimize offshore services.
We asked Breaux a few questions about what it’s like to launch a startup in New Orleans. Check out his answers below:
How and when did you come up with the idea for the business?
I graduated college in May of 2014 and started working for the dominant Offshore Service Vessel (OSV) operator, or “boat company,” but soon after getting hired the price of oil dropped and the industry crashed. I kept getting demotions because our company was losing work and I started looking for a way to create value in a down market. We went through a couple pivots on product and approach, but eventually we found our currently formula. When I was 19, I originally wanted to start a boat company, not a tech company, but that’s where our search for value-add lead us.
How did you get connected to The Idea Village?
It took us awhile to come across IDV. Initially I talked to a local private equity firm that pointed us to the ENERGYx program at IDV, but we had missed the deadline for the 2016 cohort. Instead, the NO/LA Angel Network suggested we pitch at NOEW last march, which went terrible. I was late and our file format was corrupted which led to a subpar presentation.
After that, the talks kind of fizzled and we were back on my own. I applied for the 2017 ENERGYx program the day the applications opened for submission, but I eventually lost my job in the oilfield due to the continued downward spiral of the industry and I was faced with a disappointing ultimatum: hang up my startup dreams for a day job or push forward full force. I choose the later and in three months I was out of money.
I took a new job and mentally shelved The Offshore Exchange, all the while feeling like there was still more we could have done, and I was right. Not long after I accepted the job and moved on, I got a call from Hank Torbert, the Entrepreneur In Residence or “EIR,” asking us to come in and see if we were a good fit. Thankfully, they liked our pitch and we ended up being apart of a fantastic program. Really grateful for Hank, the ENERGyx program, and the entire IDV.
What has been your biggest business challenge so far?
Product, customer, and capital. If you don’t have one of those foundations, you can’t begin to build. There’s multiple ways to stitch together your resources and establish a base, but it’s definitely a slow process. You have to make sure the value proposition is there and you have to sell it like it’s the hottest stock available. Hank calls that “preaching the gospel” and that’s exactly what it is until you have the resources to build a foundation.
From a funding standpoint, I don’t think New Orleans is a ripe capital market for angel or seed funding. The money is here from legacy industries but the appetite for risk/reward isn’t there from high net worth individuals.
From a customer standpoint, we’re operating in a legacy industry where relationships are crucial and entrenched in the sales channel, “You scratch my back, I’ll get you what you want.” It’s hard to break that mold or to even get an audience to “preach,” but if your value proposition is there, it doesn’t matter and then it just becomes a relentless sales effort to break through the high barriers of corporate structure.
From a product standpoint, every solution in this era is tech enabled. If you don’t have a software background to bootstrap and develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) yourself or access to capital, then you’re crippled. Having accessible tech talent or resources would be a game changer.
What is unique about your business?
We’re tackling a legacy industry that is resistant to change. Offshore drilling projects run over budget and timeline every single time, but refuse to change modus operandi until there is a supply shock in the global market, like we’ve been experiencing for the past three years.
We’re applying concepts and methods that aren’t new to the tech scene, but have yet to seep into the core of our industry. These solutions and approaches are being validated in other legacy industries, but until recently hasn’t been reflected in the energy sector. We’re creating a smarter, more efficient, and better connected industry that will be able to accomplish previously elusive goals.
What is one piece of advice you would give an entrepreneur just starting out?
Persistence. My favorite hard-truth entrepreneur stories were handed down to me from friends.
One being an employer to an ex-employee that left the firm to attempt direct competition, he simply muttered a blasé, “good luck,” while his current employees maintained that the owner originally used his ironing board as an executive desk.
Second was an unfiltered response from a successful, young entrepreneur who unabashedly admitted: “If we knew how much work this would have taken, we would have never started.”
Preparation is getting all your ducks in a row, but the last mile is persistence. Persistence is the most crucial part of the process, taking failure, setbacks, or just feedback and cycling through the design and approach spiral until you have a breakthrough to build upon, one of those crucial bases we discussed earlier.
Lastly, get started. Time is your most crucial resource and its like compounding interest, invest earlier and you get to reap more rewards.
What does success look like one year from now?
Pushing the dial forward as much as possible, definitely having all three of the foundations addressed: prototype built, seed capital, and at least a handful of ecstatic and enthusiastic core customers. Moving fast is never fast enough.