From Seaport to Dataport: The Technological Renaissance of New Orleans

New Orleans is doing something that my father thought would never happen, we are changing with the times. But, we’re doing even more than that, we’re steadily starting to set the standard in several industries. Therefore, I would argue (and not just to annoy my dad) that we’re actually ahead of the times in some incredibly impressive ways. The strange thing is that we’ve always been early adopters in some ways, we just have our own way of doing it. Most notably, we have always been known for our port, innovations in cocktails and food, but we also played an integral part in developing one of the first technologies that was implemented throughout the country: the telegraph. (The original iMessage, for all of those unfamiliar).

Most people may not be aware of the fact that New Orleans played such a key role in creating the first international system of electronic communication. Because of our desirable location, entrepreneurial spirit, and ability to play well with others, we attracted talent from all over. Sound familiar? Over 200 years later, and we’re still *a top tourist destination. (*the, if you ask me). We have a booming startup economy. And, we welcome everyone to our town, from anywhere (even during football season– which I already miss). One of the most influential factors of the telegraph’s success was that each individually owned “rival company” realized that they could accomplish more if they helped each other rather than fought each other. Collaboration won out to competition– as it should. (If you don’t believe me, ask The Idea Village. I’m sure they’d be willing to help you; because after all, that’s exactly what they do– help people).

I am a third generation small business owner in Nola, and while I’m just starting off, I grew up hearing all the stories– good and bad. We have continued to embrace our fellow Nola business brethren. You can go ahead and ask pretty much anyone who has started a small business here, the most enthusiastic support often comes from those you probably thought would be your rivals (and in other cities truly are). The people who you believed were you competition may actually turn out to be your greatest allies. With that said, we (New Orleanians) are appropriately protective of what is in our city’s best interest. If the effects of any business are perceived to erode our culture or beloved traditions, you may have a much tougher time. Nola is debatably just one big co-op. We seem to champion those who champion everything that we stand for. And, you can’t fake it– we’re the city with a soul, and we can see right into yours.

Nawlins Cab is one of the newest businesses with a soul. You’ve probably heard of them, due to all the recent news surrounding Nola’s taxicab industry. In fact, just the other day, Julia wrote an entire post on them, which actually inspired this one. I urge you to go read it. To crudely summarize their involvement in the entire situation, Nawlins Cab supported new regulations that would make New Orleans cabs some of the safest in the country, as well as the most technologically advanced.

The Kerner family, owners of Nawlins Cab, publicly thank Mayor Landrieu on their website. They cite Mr. Landrieu’s courage in his ability to lead with forethought and a steadfast dedication to city-wide improvements. Such strong (positive) sentiments have rarely been held for politicians here in New Orleans. But, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone (other than a United Cab employee) in New Orleans who thinks Mr. Landrieu is steering us in the wrong direction. (Yes, that pun was intended. And yes, I’m sorry). In regards to the new regulations, there are two that should interest everyone: 1) Every cab must have a particularly sophisticated security camera; and, 2) they must all have special credit card machines. Most of the country’s biggest cities haven’t even implemented these advancements yet, but almost all of them have begun the process. Once again, New Orleanians are crossing the threshold, into the future. However, there is one internationally renowned company that is kicking down the preverbal door: Uber.

uberI was introduced to Uber by my longtime friend and now business parter, Joe Corbett. I was in DC trying to get him back home, so we could join in the fight to transform Nola into the tech mecca that everybody knows it can be. The only problem was that he’d just spent the last four years helping turn DC into a technological hotbed, so he was hesitant to start all over. After nearly two years of my attempting to lure Joe back to Nola (also known as begging and badgering), he finally saw the light (I would never stop annoying him), so I booked a flight up to DC immediately.

After Joe and I greeted one another (me forcing him into a bear hug) in his swanky Dupont Circle apartment, we chatted about my trip. Long story short, I told him that I spent $110 on a metered cab ride into DC coming from Baltimore/Washington International Airport, on a day with no traffic. That’s the day he changed my life forever, after asking: “Are you ready for me to change your life forever?” With which I responded, “I don’t know how to respond to that…” Joe chuckled, and said, “There’s a newish service called Uber, which was pretty much made for you!” He launched the app, and the rest is futuristic history.

Uber quickly became my favorite app, and still is, even though their service isn’t offered in Nola. Without being able to do it justice, I will simply describe it as a push-button, hassle-free, technologically-groundbreaking way in which you can order a luxury car (or taxi) to your current location. And, all the while, you can track the status of your ride on your phone. Money never changes hands because your credit card number is stored with Uber, and they even deduct a preset tip. You just say “thank you” then leave the car. Honestly, I recommend that you download the app four seconds ago– just saying.

Uber has revolutionized not only the technological world, but also the transportation industry as a whole. It’s so exciting that I often launch the app from Nola so that I can send cars to friends and loved ones in cities with Uber. (While they offer the ability to gift Uber credits, I like to actually send the cars myself.) While those I care for are riding in the “manually” gifted Uber car, I’m tracking (stalking) them, and texting (taunting) them for the duration of their ride.

Nawlins Cab is very similar to Uber in many ways; but, my guess is that Uber will be here before the end of the year. My hope is that Nawlins Cab will work together with Uber to build a network of cars that will service the millions of tourists, locals, and even celebrities that ride in our fair city. Maybe Nawlins Cab will even develop an option as to what type of vehicle you can order, just as with Uber. After all, they both fought regulations intended to impede their progress and for the most part they are both undefeated– exploding the theory that you can’t fight city hall, or that you can’t ask it for help. Uber should be pleased to see that New Orleans is likely anticipating their arrival, and rolling out the red carpet– rather than the red tape.

Both Uber and Nawlins Cab have a lot to gain from working with each other. Uber has about a two-year head start on Nawlins Cab, and they’re exceedingly well-funded, already in thirty locations worldwide. Uber is definitely coming, and Nawlins Cab can’t do anything to stop it. But, Nawlins Cab has the soul and the relationships necessary to sustain the Uber business model here. Unlike any other city that Uber has visited, this town thrives on interpersonal and cooperative relationships. Uber has seemingly decided to run their New Orleans market with a project manager who will spend 80% of his/her time in Texas, and only the remaining 20% with us. Nola is a tricky place to implement such a strategy, as many other big brands have discovered, no matter how popular they are in other places. Because I do love Uber so much, I want them to succeed as well, and I truly believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to learn from one another as to how they can both grow together. I can’t wait to watch them both grow and prosper… especially since the new regulations make it so they’ll both be air conditioned no matter what. (#NolaSummer #Phew).

Nola has the potential to be one of the world’s top three destinations for technologically-oriented organizations and startups. If I said that to you five years ago, you probably would have said that I had a few too many martinis at lunch. But, now it’s a reality. We should all keep up the good work and continue striving to move forward without being froward. In my (“un”)biased opinion, this is the most impressive city in on the planet, and we should share it with those who feel anywhere close to the same. So I say: “Welcome to New Orleans!” Because, after all, when it comes to things like the Borg or progress, resistance is futile– and not our style.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment on this post or connect with me on Twitter @JSDSeidman