Successful entrepreneurs don’t just identify a problem, they also act on the untameable desire to solve it. Such is the case with Chris Stuckey, who studied Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering in college, and found himself frustrated with the inaccessibility of information when designing and building boats. There had to be an easier way, he thought, and as entrepreneurs are apt to do, he created it himself. Enter Maritant, a B2B e-marketplace connecting vendors and engineers, offering them the tools, information and connections to more easily design and build maritime vessels.
We recently caught up with Chris to learn more about Maritant, his take on the New Orleans entrepreneurial scene, and what it’s like to live in the proverbial trenches of “startup life.”
Q: What was the first thing you did when you got the idea for the business?
Chris: I asked fellow engineers and colleagues to validate the idea, bringing it up in conversations to get feedback. The original idea for Maritant came from my college years at UNO (University of New Orleans) when I was working on my Senior Design project. It was further reinforced after working a couple of years as a Naval Architect within the industry.
Q: So, how will Maritant help professionals like yourself in the industry?
Chris: Maritant fosters communication and efficiency between industry professionals – helping engineers, designers, project managers & operators connect with local distributors & global manufacturers. The fact is that engineers can influence design early on, and readily-available information can help engineers be more efficient in their design process. By providing transparency within this product information, distributors can recommend the right solution for their buyer’s problem, boost sales and minimize shipyard delays.
We have an onboarding process in place that allows manufacturers, distributors, and dealers to upload equipment specifications onto the database efficiently. Analytics has shown that as we upload data, our engineer user base is finding their product searches on Maritant.com, and we attribute this to the quality of the data. Locating the right equipment is critical, since purchasing materials and equipment in US Shipbuilding accounts for $8.9 billion annually.
Q: Do you have a business plan? How do you stay in check with how you make
decisions for your business?
Chris: I began with a Lean Startup approach, and this summer I wrote a formal business plan. We oversee the strategy of the business with milestone roadmaps. A strategy that Mike Eckert, former CEO of The Weather Channel & former Idea Village mentor, and I implemented very early on, while a cohort of the IDEAxcelerator Program at Idea Village. Then, I work backwards on all the steps necessary to achieve those milestones.
Q: Besides the online platform, how is Maritant using technology in the business?
Chris: We are developing our platform using Ruby on Rails, since Maritant is a platform designed to scale. We partner with Revelry Labs, a local web development company based in New Orleans doing incredible engineering work all over the country for clients like Facebook and Shutterfly. Revelry Labs Founder Gerard Ramos specializes in scaling businesses, taking his experience gained at both Zappos and Williams-Sonoma and now applying that to e-Commerce startups like our own. In addition, I utilize sales communication plugins like ToutApp and Charlie App daily to stay connected with clients. For HR, I recommend Zenefits and ZenPayroll. As for CRM software, we just started using Close.io.
Q: How are you marketing Maritant?
Chris: From the onset, we’ve had strong ties with the shipbuilding industry, so much of our initial marketing has been relationship-based and word-of-mouth. That said, we’re about to launch a more robust traditional and digital marketing campaign in November that we’re excited about. Given Maritant’s location, we’re fortunate that Louisiana comprises 11% of the US Maritime Industry, so this demographic is a great start. So far, we haven’t really focused much on social media; however, we love people to connect with Maritant on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
Q: What is the biggest milestone to date?
Chris: We finished an API (Application Software Interface) in July, which enables Maritant to
upload tens of thousands of products at one time. Our goal was to have 1,500,000 products on Maritant.com by the end of 2014; we currently have 900,000 products on the database. We’re well on our way.
Q: What are next steps for the company? Are you hiring any employees yet?
Chris: As we’re in the final phase of our initial product development, we’re just starting to increase our staff. I recently hired two incredibly talented employees and we’re interested in interviewing developers.
Q: Tell me, I know mentoring is important to you… who do you meet with regularly for advice?
Chris: When I meet stand-out individuals, I make it a point to continuously stay in contact. I check-in regularly with Patrick Comer at Federated Sample, Merritt Lane at Canal Barge, Taylor Beery and Matt Nuzzo. Friend and business partner at Maritant, Gerard Ramos is the best kind of mentor; Gerard is a motivator and keeps me in check like a big brother.
Q: Do you have any favorite books or reference materials that you used in creating
your startup or that you believe are must-reads?
Chris: I just finished “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel and “To Sell is Human” by Daniel H. Pink. I am in the middle of reading “Sell Or Be Sold” by Grant Cardone. A must-read recommendation is “Let my People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard. Some other books I really found helpful are“Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi, “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius and “The Founder’s Dilemmas” by Noam Wasserman.
Q: Is there someone in business who you think is just a rock star entrepreneur?
Chris: Hands down: Richard Branson. He’s a kiteboarder with an island…need I say more? Branson is the creative delinquent that Yvon Chouinard speaks of “In Let My People Go Surfing”. Branson hires talented individuals, pays them what they’re worth, encourages failure and utilizes their experience to build stellar companies.
Q: What do you think the NOLA entrepreneurial scene needs? How can we
improve an entrepreneurial hub?
Chris: I think Nola has a great entrepreneurial community. I would be stoked if someone would take the lead in organizing a monthly entrepreneurial leadership dinner. Maybe that someone will be me, well see… Or Nola Meetup can start back up!
Q: Any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Chris: Build a four-story indoor/outdoor rock climbing gym. We need additional businesses that promote active lifestyles outside drinking and eating.
But honestly, my two cents: Prep a little and execute fast. Read. Learn. Listen. Absorb. Execute. Read and learn some more. Building a business is a challenge. You’re inspiring everyone around you and creating an extension of your abilities with the goal to make this branded entity self-sustaining. Always be executing. Make it your goal to be a hustler, your goal is become a business person. Get beyond telling people you’re an entrepreneur, because at the end of the day, entrepreneur is a fancy word for broke and full of executable ideas.
Be a great listener and a better storyteller. Deliver a message people can get behind.
Stay organized. Know what tomorrow brings, be adaptable, and stay the course, because you know the end goal. One practice that has been helpful for me: I create a checklist the night before, to help manage the next day. This helps me sleep well at night.
Maintain the work-life balance. All my friends think I kiteboard everyday… It’s called #latergram for a reason. Grind it everyday, hustle and when the wind is up, go kiteboarding! A few of my best ‘a-ha’ moments have come while running- dodging streetcars on St. Charles or 6am November Projects. Do something you really enjoy in spurts to re-energize your soul. Balance will help when you are working long days, everyday.
Needless to say, Maritant has solid footing with Chris Stuckey at the helm and with innovative partner Revelry Labs. It’s exciting to see a local startup succeeding that will undoubtedly improve the shipbuilding industry, an industry so deeply rooted in New Orleans culture as a backbone of economic support for generations. How great it will be the chart Maritant’s progress in the months to come as they develop their burgeoning startup.