Meet John Laurie: Former Entrepreneur, Reluctant Academic, and Ultimate Frisbee Enthusiast
I’m here to introduce and welcome another new Reveler, John Laurie! Originally from Pittsburgh, John jumped at the chance to move to New Orleans for grad school in 2001 where he earned a Ph.D. in Economic Development from the University of New Orleans. A highlight for him was writing his dissertation in the Economics of Spring Break.
Upon graduating, John took a job as a Senior Consultant with the Kauffman Foundation, who had set up offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge post-Katrina to help revitalize small businesses. During his time there, he helped hundreds of entrepreneurs and businesses in all sectors get back on their feet or start new businesses.
After about five years, he thought he’d give academia a shot and took a teaching job at Nevada State College in Las Vegas where he started their entrepreneurship program. He then received an offer from Baylor University in Texas. Since Baylor’s entrepreneurship program is one of the top five in the country, he couldn’t say no. After a while, he realized he no longer wanted to be an academic. That’s when he came to Revelry.
I sat down with John to ask him questions about his career and life. Let’s get to it.
What was it like being in academia?
I never wanted to be an academic. I was in a unique position where I had more practical experience than academic experience. Academia was strange to me because most professors have no management or business experience. Yet, once promoted after a long tenure, they are then expected to lead a department of 50 to 100 people. It felt like the blind leading the blind. Since I had years of business and management experience under my belt, I could clearly see how mishandled things were, but it was difficult to bring that up to folks who haven’t been questioned before.
How did you get into economic development?
I don’t know how I got into it but it seemed very applied versus a lot of other things in academia. I’ve owned three businesses, so I naturally gravitated toward working with entrepreneurs since I was one.
What were the three businesses you owned?
I owned a fitness company in Ft Lauderdale. I owned a small tech company in New Orleans. I owned a tanning salon in New Orleans. I no longer have any of these companies. I decided I didn’t like retail, and it got to be annoying dealing with a people-dependent, high-volume, low-profit business.
How did you first hear about Revelry?
I met Gerard when he moved back to New Orleans in 2011 at a conference. We started talking and hanging out. Back then he was starting his company Unawkward, and I was involved in it but it never got funding and took off. After I moved, I would have Gerard come in and speak to my classes in Vegas and Texas. He always had great stories for the students. We kept in touch and had been talking for a while about founding a Startup Studio. So when he was finally ready to do it, he asked if I wanted to come on board, and I said definitely. I joined Revelry around the same time as Brent.
What do you do at Revelry?
I focus my time on roughly 70% Startup Studio and 30% Revelry as a whole. For Startup Studio, I created the evaluation process and run it from start to end, besides the finances that Jon helps with. The evaluation process determines whether or not an idea is viable to turn into a business.
I also do a lot of strategy work. I have a hand in developing Revelry’s various initiatives. One being INNO as part of Startup Studio. I work with the team to create a strategy of where we want that to go in the next 3 to 5 years and develop a game plan. In addition, I help with the general Revelry business strategy. I may do some troubleshooting or game plan things that come up with Gerard, Thomas, or others depending on what we’re working on.
What do you love about your job?
I love the fact that I get to work with a bunch of really smart people. My job is different every day, which prevents me from getting bored. I like to mix it up. It keeps me excited to get up in the morning, and everyone I work with has the same mindset.
What are your thoughts on Vegas vs New Orleans?
Vegas is like New Orleans in its ability to access entertainment 24 hours a day. New Orleans is more than Bourbon Street and Las Vegas is more than the strip. Where they differ is that New Orleans has the deepest history of any city in the US. Vegas is like 50 years old and reinvents itself every 10 years. But it keeps it interesting. I like unique places.
Alright, time for the rapid-fire round!
What do you like to do for fun?
I am an avid ultimate frisbee player. I’m on a competitive club team in Vegas called Fear and Loathing, but I’m retiring soon.
What non-digital product could you not live without?
What is your favorite Slack channel?
What’s your home office setup?
I work at a coffee shop for the first half of the day. Then from home for the second half of the day.
What’s the best coffee shop in New Orleans?
The Vintage. Good location, really good coffee, and a great atmosphere.