Two Local Entrepreneurs Launch the ‘New Orleans Chamber of Ecommerce’
NEW ORLEANS – As the founder and owner of an online business, local Knud Berthelsen boasts a global reach. His personalized tea subscription company, Free Your Tea, attracts clients from both New Orleans and Norway – his homeland, among other countries around the world. And although Berthelsen works in the Launch Pad collaborative workspace – smack dab in the middle of the bustling CBD – he still feels somewhat ostracized from the New Orleans brick-and-mortar business community.
“E-commerce is sort of vilified because people say you should shop local, buy at the store, and don't buy stuff online, because it's bad for local business,” said Berthelsen. “But, we are local e-commerce businesses and there are several of us.”
In an effort to create a feeling of camaraderie between local online business owners, address the challenges they face, and also share a few success strategies with one another, Berthelsen joined forces with Eugene Brill. Brill is a business strategy advisor, primarily for e-commerce companies, and the owner of several e-commerce websites.
Together, the internet-savvy entrepreneurs created the New Orleans Chamber of Ecommerce, a meetup group that will gather on the first Wednesday of every month, at 4 p.m., inside Launch Pad (400 Poydras St., 9th floor). The first meeting takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 6.
They will also host a Facebook page for their members, and feature guest speakers who work for successful tech companies.
“The first thing we want to do is confirm some of our assumptions that the (participants) have problems or challenges in common, or that they have valuable experiences that they're happy to share with others,” Berthelsen explained. “We'd like to get a feel about what others are thinking, which we may or may not know about yet.”
Brill moved to the United States from his homeland of South Africa about 25 years ago, and now lives in New Orleans with his wife, a native New Orleanian.
He met Berthelsen while working as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) at the Idea Village, where he also served as a mentor for entrepreneurs.
“There are a number of very large e-commerce companies that nobody knows about, and these guys don't know about each other,” said Brill. “We thought (the New Orleans Chamber of Ecommerce) would be a great opportunity to bring everybody together to share ideas – and obviously not trade secrets, but talk about things that we have in common.”
Berthelsen feels that the online business community lacks representation in the local and statewide political arena, and the ability to address complicated and – depending on the location of their clients – expensive sales tax laws.
“We’d like to take a harder look at: ‘Are the conditions for starting and running an e-commerce business out of New Orleans better or worse than the rest of the country,’” he said.
“It would also be nice to help local brick-and-mortar companies do better online; it's not like you have to be online only, or brick-and-mortar only,” said Berthelsen. “If you have something unique that you sell in your store, you can get an extra source of revenue by selling it online. That's a win-win.”
Suzanne Pfefferle Tafur is the associate news editor for Biz New Orleans