In the old days — say five to 10 years ago — Max Gaudin would have nourished his entrepreneurial ambitions from his kitchen table or a coffee shop.
But on Thursday, as he prepared to launch his third start-up company, the 28-year-old New Orleans native was busy tapping away on his laptop computer in a ground-floor office filled with other would-be entrepreneurs and solo practitioners, some of whom have lent Gaudin a hand along the way.
The office is leased out by Launch Pad, which bills itself as “a collaborative workspace and community of entrepreneurs, creative professionals and freelancers.”
The company has built this community by inviting individual entrepreneurs to rent a seat at a table, a desk or a room on a monthly basis, giving like-minded strangers a chance to meet and collaborate amid free coffee and shared printers.
Founded in 2009, Launch Pad’s workspace on three floors of a Warehouse District building has nurtured several dozen start-ups in New Orleans’ emerging digital economy. And the company is poised to expand, creating another collaborative workspace in Bywater and managing the soon-to-reopen St. Roch Market.
“Launch Pad has played a significant role in the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region,” said Michael Hecht, president and chief executive officer of Greater New Orleans Inc., which promotes investment in New Orleans and its environs.
Patrick Comer is one Launch Pad success story. He moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans in 2008 when his wife wanted to come home. A high-tech entrepreneur, Comer said he initially worked remotely for a Los Angeles marketing firm but felt uneasy with the arrangement.
He found out about Launch Pad when it was still in its infancy and became the first person to rent a desk there.
“I was trying to figure out what to do next,” Comer said. “I wanted to be around people with similar ideas and where it was normal and good to start thinking you could transform an industry.”
In time, he launched his own company, consulting for other businesses on marketing research projects. He called it Federated Sample. Soon, he graduated from a desk to an office at Launch Pad and hired 11 employees. The company kept expanding, outgrew Launch Pad, and today it has 60 workers and its own office at Canal Place.
Launch Pad, Comer said, proved fertile ground for his ideas.
“I’d be working on a project for my company and a person at the next desk was working on creating their own company,” he recalled. “We would talk about how to do health care and set up an email system, or we’d use Google Group to share ideas with others in the building online. Our lawyer was on the third floor. The person who did video graphics was on the fourth floor.”
Launch Pad was founded by three recent arrivals to New Orleans.
Barre Tanguis, originally from Monroe, was working for a private equity firm in Dallas that sent him to New Orleans. Chris Schultz, originally from Virginia, met a woman during a visit to Jazz Fest and stayed. Will Donaldson, originally from Alabama, came to attend Tulane.
They found one another through a shared entrepreneurial bent and a desire to engage with others.
At Launch Pad, they divide the responsibilities. Tanguis, 40, handles the real estate and operations; Donaldson, 31, the finances; and Schultz, 40, the community outreach. The company hosts events for New Orleans’ high-tech community two or three nights a week.
The concept of the shared workspace is generally credited with getting its start a decade or so ago in the high-tech hubs of Silicon Valley and Boston. Now, just about every major city has its own version.
“Launch Pad is successful because we create a fun environment,” Tanguis said. “But we take the needs of our clients very seriously. If anything breaks or isn’t working properly, we fix it immediately. Our clients can leave us at the end of the month. We have to be on our game.”
Gaudin has had no reason so far to give up the desk that he rents at Launch Pad for $450 per month. He has hired part-time workers to launch his first two digital ventures: Sidework, which provides online training for restaurant workers, and Airpnp, which allows anyone on the street needing a bathroom — Mardi Gras revelers, say — to find one through a phone app.
A University of New Orleans dropout, Gaudin said he could have developed the companies working out of his home or coffee shops, “but it would have happened more slowly.”
At Launch Pad, he found a mentor, legal help and someone who could do online video.
Next for Launch Pad is opening another shared workspace in Bywater. It will have 10,000 square feet, nearly the same size as the Warehouse District location.
The company is expanding into the food business at St. Roch Market. Donaldson is playing the lead role in finding people who want to open mini-restaurants in 14 different food stalls there.
Everyone will share the kitchen and the walk-in cooler.
Donaldson and his partners view it as Launch Pad with napkins.