My Year in #NOLATech: What I Learned and What You Need To Know

My Year in NOLATech… or skip to What I Learned and What You Need To Know…

This past year was the hardest year of my life, both personally and professionally. 2013 started with my wife and me leaving our secure, well-paying jobs at a company I had helped to build for over 4 years. The reasons behind that decision are complex, buy me scotch and maybe I’ll share them with you. Anyway, that decision lead to moments of sheer terror, fueled by going from lots of income to zero income virtually overnight, which was also oddly exciting at the same time, because who doesn’t like adventuring into the unknown? #characterbuilding

During all of this, a good friend urged me to consider moving back to New Orleans to start a creative agency. My wife and I always wanted to end up back in New Orleans, so we figured why delay the inevitable? We promptly broke our lease, packed up a moving pod, rented a car, and hit the road to New Orleans with our pug, Olive. Upon arriving, I was determined to recreate my success in DC by taking what I’d learned from the very smart people I met there, and applying it to the Tech Community here. I wrote about why I wanted to do this on SBN many months ago, and urged hopeful entrepreneurs to start building the business of their dreams today.

All indicators initially were that things would work out; I closed six figures of business from clients outside of New Orleans, and the community seemed to be behind our effort to gather our voices together to benefit everyone. We did this by launching the NOLATech Facebook Group, renewing interest in the #NOLATech hashtag, and crafting the framework for NOLATech Week. Yay for community building.

Perhaps I was too focused on NOLATech, or more likely I didn’t do enough homework to understand the market here before jumping in, but last August I left the agency I co-founded in search of a way to pay next month’s rent, as I couldn’t afford to be part of a “startup” agency for much longer. For me, this was a failure. I was supposed to be laying the groundwork for a world-class agency, but I was literally unable to pay myself, let alone a team of people and also, for brief moment, I was “that guy” telling everyone to get their hands dirty and make something valuable, yet I had failed to do that myself. Now I find myself commuting to DC every two weeks and will eventually be moving back with my wife and pug, because living away from them for any amount of time is unbearable. So, double fail…

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on all of this, mostly during my monthly flights to DC and back to NOLA, and the time spent processing things has turned up what I think are important insights for the NOLATech community.

What I Learned and What You Need to Know…

Your best attribute is not that you are from New Orleans

I’ve often had the feeling that some of us, especially born-and-raised locals, secretly (or not-so-secretly) feel that the best thing they are is from New Orleans. New Orleans is a place on a map. The people that live here and fill it with culture and opportunity are far more important than a piece of geography. I think this is a self-esteem issue that must be corrected. Be proud of being a talented musician, capable developer, dedicated city servant, or even a parent first, and put being from New Orleans as second, maybe even third — because no matter what, no one can say you aren’t from here, but anyone can potentially question the other attributes of your character, so focus on building them up. This will help the city you are proud to call home more than wearing a fleur de lis across your chest.

Stop cheerleading constantly and get back to work

This is a lesson that can apply to any tech or entrepreneurial community. All too often people get wrapped up in praising how amazing our accomplishments are, to the point where they forget that they need to be working to keep the momentum going. I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate your wins, but do not inflate them to the point where they are completely out of touch with what is real. New Orleans is a great place to live and work, so prove it every day by working hard and building it up; stop focusing on where we rank on various lists that have no actual bearing on our future.

The successful people among us need to step up and lead

People that create a successful business and then use that success to build up others around him or her are the kind of leaders we need. The successful people among us need to write more checks to fund events, open their doors more often to mentor us, and be willing to be labeled as a Community Leader. More than anything, they need to be more visible, because then their actions can inspire more of us, more often.

Independent game development in NOLA could be our ticket

It might be because I love all the indie game developers here, or maybe it’s just that I love playing games, but my spider senses are telling me that game development could be huge in New Orleans one day, if we support it enough. So because of that, and despite my move to DC, my co-producer, Kyle Whittington, and I are dedicated to creating a sequel to DLC13 this year in New Orleans. On that note, if you like making games or just playing them, you should get involved with this community as much as possible by joining their Facebook group and Meetup group.

Be overly-accommodating and helpful to our visitors

I’m not saying this is something that isn’t happening already, but I wanted to make it clear that this is one of the most important things we can do. Many people have come to me over the last year and asked me for a run-down on what’s going on in New Orleans because they want to get involved and relocate here. I give these people as much time as I possibly can to learn about what they do and how their talents could benefit our community. I do my best to immediately connect them with the people that I view as our most honest and genuine entrepreneurs and community leaders. Make sure you are always doing that; you’re never too busy to show off the best we have to offer.

“Entrepreneur” and “Community Leader” are not unsavory terms

Because those words are overused, many people have grown to resent them and have given them a negative connotation. Well, reality check… being either of those things is great, and being both of them is fantastic. Just because someone isn’t an all-star entrepreneur or is new to hosting a meetup doesn’t make them a wannabe. It makes them inspirational, so if they want to be labeled as an entrepreneur and/or a community leader, then let them. In fact, you should support them. One of our best examples of a Community Leader is Torrie Adams, a woman that is making a difference by supporting any and all New Orleans women in technology. Show your support by backing her FundDat campaign.

Well that’s all I got. Feel free to leave a comment including some of your key learnings from NOLATech this year. I wish you all the best of luck in 2014, and though I’m moving away, please know I’m always eager to help New Orleans and the people that call it home. Happy New Year, everyone.