The road to NOEW: Tech trio takes their model to market in NOLA
From March 20 - 27, New Orleans’ annual business festival, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, returns. The week of programming, centered upon innovation and entrepreneurship, will culminate in crowd driven pitch contest The Big Idea. In partnership with The Idea Village and their blog, #IDEAinsider, NolaVie presents "The Road to NOEW," a month-long series highlighting some of the entrepreneurs who will be showcased this year.
Sean Carrigan was out for drinks at a bar in the Warehouse District in New Orleans one night back in 2012. He was waiting to hear from friends who were planning to join him, but his phone was dying and he didn’t have a charger with him. Reluctantly, he asked the bartender if he could charge his phone at the bar, but he said no. Looking back, it’s probably a good thing, because that experience later prompted Carrigan to co-found MobileQubes, a portable charging battery system for smart phones and tablets.
After that night, Carrigan began doing research and found that this was an existing problem for consumers. He wanted to create a solution. So, he and a friend, Jason Palmer, sat down at his kitchen table and started brainstorming. They drafted some sketches that led them to the MobileQubes model that is now on the market. The sketches now sit near their first prototype model in their office in the New Orleans BioInnovation Center.
In late 2012, Carrigan, along with co-founders Jason Palmer and Mike Melito, developed MobileQubes, which was first created as a lockbox station, a kiosk with lockers where users swiped their credit card, a bay popped open, and they could plug in their phones and lock them away. It was a secure venue-based charging solution, but they quickly realized that the model had a couple of problems.
First, they were limited in the revenue they could generate, because of the limited number of bays available to users.
Second, that model still required users to give up control of their phones. So, Carrigan and his team analyzed the product, pivoted, and came up with the model that exists today -- a kiosk with a portable battery rental and return system. Think of it as the “Red Box” for charging mobile devices.
In under a year, they took their idea from a sketch on a piece of paper to a model out in the market, which is impressively fast for a hardware-based technology startup.
But if you ask Carrigan, he’ll tell you that it didn’t feel fast at all.
“When you come up with an idea, that is the first step in the entire process, and it’s a long road. You are constantly solving problems, you have to be creative with funding, sales and marketing, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” Carrigan says.
Now, they are piloting the final product at 12 locations throughout New Orleans, including the Hyatt, Smoothie King Center (formerly the New Orleans arena) and the Louis Armstrong airport.
They’re preparing to expand to more markets this summer, deploying units to Las Vegas, Chicago and airports across the country.
"We put our kiosks in high-traffic venues, enable people to rent and return their power solution, and it keeps them on the go, and charging up when they need it most," Carrigan says.
This time last year, they were just in the concept stage during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. This year, they have a product.
Now, with their product perfected, the founders are focusing on securing funding. MobileQubes will be participating in the Capital X pitch during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, and their efforts will be centered on getting exposure to potential investors.
Carrigan says several factors made New Orleans the prime environment for launching their company.
“New Orleans has all the distribution channels we were targeting -- big hotels, a decent sized airport, a casino property, convention center, and a big sporting arena,” Carrigan says.
But it also gave them another competitive advantage.
“It allowed us to fly under the radar for a little bit so that we didn’t have to tip our hand to any potential competitors trying to get into the space. That helped us maintain a first mover advantage, especially with the technology that we’re working with,” Carrigan says.
And while New Orleans is not known as a tech startup city, co-founder Melito says that has made the process all the more thrilling.
“It’s great to be the first. It’s bleeding edge. If you can be the first, and succeed at that, it’s far more exciting to make a name for yourself and pave the way for others,” Melito says.
But you’ve got to be in it for the long-haul, Carrigan says.
“I think that’s the challenge people face. It always takes longer than you think it’s going to take, and it costs more than you think it’s going to cost. You have to have that intestinal fortitude and just put your head down and get through the process,” Carrigan says.
And part of that process is exploring unchartered territories.
“The hardest part is that none of us at MobileQubes have ever done this before. In fact, no one in the world has ever done this particular product before. So when you have a concept that you don’t have a previous roadmap to follow, you have to build your own road and everything that’s ahead of that is new,” Melito says.
Perhaps MobileQubes will be the breakthrough company that helps pave the way for a new wave of technology entrepreneurs in New Orleans.
Summer Suleiman is a health writer and blogger who writes about her experience living healthy (or trying to) in a city best known for its fabulous (unhealthy) food and debauchery. You can read about her journey saying no to po’boys and Sazeracs, and yes to kale and juicing, at www.HealthySummer.me or on Twitter @summersuleiman.