This post was originally published on NOEW.org. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is a festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation in New Orleans. See it all happen this year March 19-24, 2017.
“And if we get this right, we’re gonna teach ‘em how to say goodbye.” – Lyrics from the Broadway musical ‘Hamilton’
I’m saying goodbye as CEO of The Idea Village. This may be the most difficult thing I have ever done. And how could it be any other way?
Sixteen years of bone-deep, soul-scorching investment in an idea that tested everything that I believe about myself and my city.
So why now?
There is so much momentum…so many possibilities…outstanding leaders have stepped into the ring, committed to sustaining the entrepreneurial movement while adding their own mark to its constant, necessary evolution…starting and growing a great business in New Orleans is no longer propaganda, our citizens are putting up big numbers and the world has taken notice, proclaiming us an entrepreneurial hub… investors from near and far are backing local companies and keeping them here… entrepreneurship is humming, keeping perfect time with New Orleans’ rhythms and rituals…the movement is inclusive and focused on industries important to our city like water, education, energy, and art, to name just a few…New Orleans Entrepreneur Week tipped this year, seizing its own indelible place on the calendar and in the hearts of believers literally around the world…we’ve reversed a 50+ year brain gain and the talent is piling in…entrepreneurs are taking the reigns, accountable to the civic fabric of the community, respecting tradition and fearlessly embracing the future….entrepreneurs are invited to the table and leading.
Quite simply, entrepreneurship in New Orleans is no longer a crazy idea.
A well-known New Orleanian tapped me on the shoulder March 16, 2012 at the Big Idea at NOEW. I’ve known her for a while and we spoke often of hopes and concerns for the future of the city. Standing there in the street, with thousands of entrepreneurs and people who believe in them swirling about, she said to me, shouting above the lively crowd:
‘I’d never thought I’d see this in my lifetime. My kids can now come home.’
That was a moment.
That is why saying goodbye is so hard.
I found inspiration to make my decision in an unexpected place – the Broadway musical, Hamilton. In the song One Last Time, George Washington’s character explains to Alexander Hamilton’s character that he is stepping down and will not run for president:
“If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on, it outlives me when I’m gone.”
For something you’ve birthed, something to which you’ve given your heart and soul to outlive you… you have to let go.
Since 2000, I’ve had the great honor and privilege of working alongside some of the most incredible leaders who, through passion, desire, and sheer perseverance, have positioned New Orleans for the future. And the future is looking bright. But I believe it’s time we begin to pass along the opportunities – and challenges of this great city to a new generation.
Let them take a shot.
For true change in our community, we need a model of generational leadership.
That, is the Big Idea.
When I told The Idea Village team my plans, I saw a glimmer of true excitement in their eyes:
“Finally…we can do what we want.”
Yes, you can. But here’s the deal.
- Make sure you know your ‘why’.
- Make it your own journey. (i.e. Please don’t just copy what we did.)
- Make it better. (i.e. Don’t screw it up!)
- Don’t give up until you deliver on your promises.
- When it works, pass it along to the next generation.
As I reflect back on the wonderful journey that began in the Loa Bar in 1999, I realize we were naïve, yet confident. We were rebellious, yet respectful. We were competitors, yet had an unbreakable bond. We loved New Orleans, yet she frustrated us too. And yes, we were all just a little bit crazy.
At the end of the day though, we all cared deeply about the future of our City.
I would like to toast the many people who have been part of this astonishing journey. You should never be forgotten for your commitment to New Orleans:
- The Founders – strangers, now lifelong friends who decided to drop their business cards at the door to start a bold movement together.
- The Fearless Board Chairs – who’ve led with grace, vision, and passion – and put up with me over the last 16 years.
- The Board Members – who’ve been mentors, critical thinkers and advocates for new ideas – The Idea Village for The Idea Village.
- The Krewe de Nieux – you are the reason why we started this effort – now it’s time to pay-it-forward.
- The Ecosystem Leaders – you are co-founders of this movement and I cannot wait to see what’s next.
- The Idea Village Team – both past and present – there is no better team in the world. You turn crazy ideas into reality. A family forever.
- My Mentors – you were there through the many challenges and obstacles – and the pushback. Your commitment and insights fueled the movement.
- My Friends – who trusted this crazy idea when it really was just a crazy idea.
Finally…the two most important partners on this journey: my incredible wife, Jenny, and my beautiful, little inspiration Katie Blair. You both are the reason why I do what I do.
I know that the next few months are going to be hard. Saying goodbye and getting out of the way is never easy. But I can envision Katie Blair pitching on The Big Idea stage at NOEW 2030 and nothing excites me more. She certainly has crazy ideas!
With that, a parting thought, courtesy of ‘The Greatest’:
“If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it then I can achieve it.”
Today, I will announce my new journey in New Orleans and for New Orleans. Game on.