Below is a guest post from Tulane IDEAcorps team leader Emilia Anderson. IDEAcorps is the nationally-recognized experiential learning program that engages MBA students to provide strategic consulting to select high-growth New Orleans entrepreneurs during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW).
Create “impact” for KREWE du Optic. That was our task, but what did it really mean? In typical MBA-student fashion we wanted to solve ALL of KREWE’s problems and we were (somewhat) foolishly confident enough to think that we had the tools and the skills to do just that. But after spending a week working alongside real entrepreneurs, on a real business, with real and incredibly difficult challenges we realized there was more to this whole “entrepreneurship” thing than what we’ve heard in our classes or read in textbooks. Out of our team of six students, almost every single one of us has aspirations of either starting our own business, or helping other small businesses achieve their goals. So while there certainly was no lack of passion on our team, there was a lot we wanted to do for KREWE in a very short amount of time.
KREWE du Optic is a New Orleans based sunglass company that has been selling its fashion-forward, high-quality frames since August of 2013. KREWE has experienced great early success and most of what we were faced with dealt with helping the Company try to get to the “next level.” KREWE has virtually saturated the New Orleans market and needs to figure out if and how it can make that happen. Initially we thought maybe this would entail a sexy marketing plan or social media campaign – but what we discovered is that there are so many fundamental things that a business needs to do well first in order to set the proper foundation so that those marketing campaigns can even happen. These are things that just seem to “work” at a big company, but that are left in the hands of an entrepreneur to figure out on his own in order to ensure his startup’s success. Supply chain optimization (what?), inventory management (boring!), city permitting processes (gross!) – THESE were the areas that we had to tackle Monday through Thursday between the hours of 8 am to whenever we ran out of pretzels and M&Ms or couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
Looking back on the week I think we would all say that it was one of the most valuable experiences of our MBA careers thus far. I honestly don’t think there is any way to learn or understand what it’s like to be an entrepreneur unless you are thrown right into the middle of the chaos. We learned to ask the right questions, to embrace our strengths and admit our weaknesses, to push past our pride and reach out for help when we hit a wall, and how to have difficult conversations with each other and with our entrepreneurs.
However, if you had asked me how I felt about the week while the six of us sat around a table endlessly debating where KREWE fit within the independent eyewear industry or what piece of software would best tackle the Company’s increasingly complicated inventory issues, I might have had a different answer. Whether it was staring at an Excel spreadsheet trying like hell to figure out the right functions to string together to make our inventory management model work, or making call after call until we found the right person at City Hall that could help us demystify the local festival permitting rules and regulations – the week brought exhilarating “aha!” moments as well as frustrating roadblocks. In the end, our team had to work together to not just try to win the IDEAcorps Challenge, but to truly help a Company overcome hurdles that are inhibiting it from growing and thriving. If we accomplished even a small piece of that, I believe we created real impact.
It was eye opening to see a young Company do so well in just eight short months, but at the same time still have so many significant challenges left to tackle. At the same time, it was comforting to find out that every other MBA team participating in IDEAcorps was experiencing the same highs and lows with their respective companies. However, while challenges exist, so do opportunities for each and every one of them. Only time will tell if KREWE’s business model (or any of the companies’ business models for that matter) will stand the test of time and be able to weather the inevitable challenges that face every startup. Even the best business plans with the best brains behind them sometimes fail. But what was clear to us was that entrepreneurs can’t succeed alone on an island. They need support, feedback, resources, and encouragement from a multitude of different sources. Entrepreneurial success also takes a crazy amount of skill, hard work, and passion – and of course a little bit of timing and luck. So while we couldn’t wave a magic wand and solve all of the issues facing KREWE, we certainly hope we were able to offer a fresh perspective, endless enthusiasm, and a couple of concrete deliverables that the Company will use moving forward.
We were so fortunate to have this opportunity to work with KREWE, and we have its team and The Idea Village to thank. It is an experience the six of us will remember forever, and hopefully when we’re starting our own future companies in New Orleans, we’ll have a scrappy and eager team of Tulane or Loyola MBAs to work alongside us.