“Being the Entrepreneur” and Giving New Orleans a Boost

05/07/2014

A team of Johnson MBA students spent an intensive week helping an entrepreneurial business in a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina


New Orleans is about a lot more than Bourbon Street and voodoo legends.  

The last week in March 2014, I joined MBA students from around the country in New Orleans for the IDEAcorps Challenge. The team from Johnson was joined by teams from Wharton, Chicago Booth, Berkeley Haas, Tulane, and Loyola.  This Challenge is not your standard case competition.  Each team was paired with a local start-up and tasked with being the CEO for a week, with the goal of having as much impact on the business as possible.

The Johnson team was paired with IMOTO Photo, a real estate photography company.  The company has seen early success in the New Orleans market and has its sights set on a regional expansion.  Darryl Glade, CEO of IMOTO, challenged us early in the week to “be the entrepreneur.”  This became the Johnson team’s call to action. 

We took on IMOTO’s toughest challenges as our own.  Working with Darryl, we realized the company faced significant barriers to scale, from its incomplete financial statements to manual day-to-day operating processes.  Our focus for the week was reducing manual operations, such as order processing and scheduling photo shoots, updating financial statements, developing a long-term customer retention strategy, and opening-up new sales channels. 

In just a few days we were able to implement new order-management processes and automate activities that had previously taken hours.  We also developed a long-term technology roadmap that will enable IMOTO to handle larger order volumes as they expand to multiple cities.

Not only did the team update the accounting systems to immediately provide clarity in the financial statements, but we also helped Darryl secure a financial advisor that will manage IMOTO’s books and reporting for the long term. 

IMOTO is expanding beyond its hometown to Atlanta, a market that is almost triple in size.  With this expansion, the company needed to have the ability to analyze and target its customers.  We developed reporting capabilities and a communication strategy that will allow IMOTO to identify and better target customers.

Finally, we opened up a new sales channel for the business--hotels.  We were able to meet with more than 10 hotels in the French Quarter and booked two photo shoots during the week.  With the results of this shoot, we got IMOTO an endorsement from the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association.

At the beginning of the week, I asked the team members about their goals for the IDEAcorps Challenge.  Each one of us said impacting IMOTO was our number-one objective. Throughout the week, we leveraged our diverse backgrounds and skill sets, and in true Johnson fashion, we worked collaboratively toward this goal.  Each team member was truly dedicated; in fact one team member was diagnosed with the flu and kept working through her illness(despite her team member’s best efforts to get her to rest).  This dedication helped us gain the entrepreneur’s trust.  It enabled us to have challenging conversations with Darryl and push his business forward in just five days.  

On Friday, the IDEAcorps judges, including Rimas Kapeskas, Managing Director of UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund, and Lizette Terral, President, New Orleans Region JP Morgan Chase, assessed all six MBA teams on how much impact we had on our entrepreneurs. This year a local team won, from Loyola University.  Regardless of the result, I think we met our personal goal, and we take tremendous pride in what we were able to accomplish for Darryl and his team. 

We would not have been able to do so much in a week without the incredible support from the Johnson community.  Last year’s IDEAcorps team and the Johnson IDEAcorps alumni provided great advice, and also helped us fundraise to finance the trip.  Our wonderful faculty advisor, Rhett Weiss, was with us for late nights and early mornings.  He provided invaluable advice on leadership and business strategy, which really made the week an exceptional learning experience.

Additionally, we want to thank all of the Johnson clubs, campus organizations, and individuals that helped sponsor our trip.

The IDEAcorps Challenge and Idea Village team did a lot more than show us a great time in New Orleans; they illustrated the power of entrepreneurship and believing in our big, crazy ideas.  Idea Village allowed us to grow beyond business school frameworks and theories and enabled us to “be the entrepreneur” for a week—as  well as make a few incredible friendships along the way.

 

The 2014 IDEAcorps Challenge team was Annie Keyes (lead), Dale Beard (co-lead), Alan Barnes, Margaret Wu, Santiago Kegevic, and Teresa Lee. Adviser was Rhett Weiss.

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