Editor’s Note: The following series New Orleanial Tech Entrepreneurship is a week-long series curated by Mary Pwint as part of the Digital Research Internship Program in partnership with ViaNolaVie. The DRI Program is a Newcomb Institute technology initiative for undergraduate students combining technology skillsets, feminist leadership, and the digital humanities.
As technology advances and New Orleans joins the movement to innovate for a better future, let us appreciate the tech entrepreneurial spirit and energy that New Orleanians share. This grouping of articles explores and appreciates tech entrepreneurship in New Orleans as it relates to tech celebrations, gatherings, startups, and inspiration. The topic for Day 2 of our “New Orleanial Tech Entrepreneurship” is Tech Startups in NOLA. This article is about Mike Massey’s journey in developing locally.com – the ultimate webroom to search online and buy locally. The article was originally published on Mar 17, 2015.
The technology industry is always coining new buzzwords. Of all the current tech-circle hot topics, Mike Massey, founder of Locally.com, is interested in an idea worthy of its own sobriquet: “webrooming.” Ask him about the reception his startup is getting in technology hubs like San Francisco and New York City, and he’ll tell you he hears the phrase a lot.
“Everybody talks about ‘webrooming,’” he says. “It’s a trendy word in the Internet marketing world.”
Webrooming means that consumers research goods online and then buy them in local stores. And Locally.com is a company that bridges exactly that gap: between online and in-person retail sales. It’s an idea that Massey and his partners are betting is one that touches a lot of people. For outdoor gear, Locally.com is the ultimate webroom. Customers looking for a particular item or brand can go to the web site, search for what they want, find out more about it, and also find out where it is available to purchase in their neighborhoods.
From a customer perspective, it’s easy to see the appeal here. Locally conscious consumers who prefer shopping in their own neighborhoods rather than on Amazon or eBay can get information on where the specific things they want can be purchased nearby.
The concept is equally appealing to major brands like Patagonia, which want to support their retail locations by encouraging people to purchase products in stores whenever possible. And for smaller locally-owned businesses, Locally.com gives them the tools to participate in the e-marketplace.
“We build micro-sites for retailers using all the product content we already [have],” Massey says. “So all they have to do is drop a line of code on their site somewhere where there’s a blank hole, and we put a website there.”
What else can local shops get out of participating in Locally.com’s e-marketplace? Perhaps the most vital information for any store or salesperson.
“If you could flip Amazon over and see ‘what is it that I should be carrying in my store’ you can see that from Locally.com. You know all the analytics, you can see stuff that’s happening on websites,” Massey explains.
But, while Locally.com has identified consumers’ “online-to-off” shopping habits as being both a huge vacancy in the internet and a huge opportunity for whoever can fill it, the path forward for Locally.com is not without its unique complications. One of them stems from the fact that Massey is committed to keeping the company headquartered here.
“There’s not an anchor like Stanford in New Orleans that generates web developers,” Massey says. “I think we’re still attracting them. I meet with them all the time but they’re very boutique. Whereas when you’re dealing with people in San Francisco, everybody’s a web developer. If they’re a doctor, they’re a web developer. Or they’re an app developer. Or some type of programmer.”
And while New Orleans’ reputation as an entrepreneurial hotspot is on the rise, it hasn’t quite managed to prove itself just yet. Massey and his partners launched Locally.com “backward:” They went out and got clients before they officially launched the product on July 1, 2014. Even with pre-launch clients validating the platform’s value, the Locally.com team sometimes has to remind potential business partners that being based in New Orleans is not an indication that they are out of touch.
“These guys that are coming out of Stanford, they’re coming out and they’re going ‘we know everything about the Internet. We’re going to tell you how it works.’ We feel like we’re carrying water for the whole city when we go out there to show, like ‘look what we’re building. The technology is something that’s really special and it doesn’t exist.’ So it’s doubly satisfying to be from New Orleans with something that people look at and they’re like, ‘that’s really cool.’”
Despite the effort he sometimes has to make to “shed the stereotypes” of the New Orleans business climate, Massey is very positive about the entrepreneurial culture down here. A lifetime resident of the New Orleans area, he has lived through some of the city’s rougher times. He recalls the “slide” the city experienced during the ‘90s and early ‘00s. And of course, he experienced the havoc and hardship of Hurricane Katrina first-hand, as both a citizen and a business owner.
“After Katrina, we opened our store and people thought we were crazy. And that was 2007, so it was a couple of years after,” he recalls.
But it proved to be the right move. Since then, in his opinion, the city has “double-downed on its weird culture,” one he credits for driving creative entrepreneurs here.
“In New Orleans, people tolerate crazy stuff, so entrepreneurs find a little bit more of a home, and I think that the tolerance of just mad ideas is what attracts people to New Orleans. And I think that’s why we see right now New Orleans going through this Renaissance of entrepreneurship. … I remember in the ‘80s, Freret was like abandoned. It was ABANDONED.”
But the New Orleans of Massey’s past is very different from the New Orleans of his present. A few weeks ago, he took his 13-year-old son to the “new Freret,” where they spent time together enjoying the atmosphere created by the restaurants and other businesses that have transformed the neighborhood.
So, has his experience watching the city evolve affected the dreams he has for his son?
“I would never have hoped for my son to stay in New Orleans if it meant a sacrifice in his opportunity. I would have never wanted that. But now I look up and I’m like ‘you know what? This is a great place. I would love for him to be here.’ I mean, I will never make that decision for him, but I would love for him to see the city before he’s ready to go to college and be like, ‘that would be really cool to go to Tulane or go to Loyola.’ I would love that.”