May 18th, 2009

How would you describe the Portland open source, Web, and mobile startup scene? [Updated]


How would you describe the Portland open source, Web, and mobile startup scene? [Updated]

A number of us have recently had the opportunity to sit down with Amanda Hess. Amanda is working on a chapter for a larger piece on the Portland entrepreneurial scene, ranging from bikes to beer to restaurants to tech.

During the interviews, she’s been asking folks to describe the Portland tech scene in their own words. When she posed the question to me, I started to stutter through a fumbling response, when I suddenly realized I could do something better.

“Why don’t we ask the community?” I said.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m asking you.

Now, I’m not asking for a tome. Well, unless of course you want to write a tome. I mean, that’s your prerogative. But you don’t have to do that. It can be short. Really short.

Think free association. Or a tweet.

Now, it’s nice out and things are kind of quiet, so this may totally fall flat. But it seemed like the right thing to do. And let’s be honest, you’re smarter then me. And I’ve already dodged the question. So please don’t make me go back and have to answer it all by my lonesome. Please?

All I’m asking is “How would you describe the Portland Web and mobile community in a few choice words?

How can you submit it? Comment here, send a tweet to @siliconflorist or @turoczy, drop an email to siliconflorist [at] gmail [dot] com, IM me… basically whatever is easiest for you.

And no, you don’t have to be from Portland, Oregon. You can be from Portland, Maine. Or somewhere else for that matter. And you don’t have to be part of a startup. I’m just looking for anyone and everyone to provide some snippets describing the open source, Web, and mobile startup environment here in town.

If you’re looking for inspiration, that recent Wall Street Journal article on Portland might be a good start.

It would be great to have this wrapped up on Tuesday. So maybe you should just bang something out right now while you’re thinking about it. And then feel free to comment again and again if need be.

Once I’ve compiled all of the responses, I’ll be more than happy to give you a glimpse of the results.

I think we’re going to get a really interesting picture of the community. And I think it will be telling to compare this to a similar experiment Scott Kveton ran a while ago called “Portland in a word.”

As always, thanks in advance for taking a few moments to participate. I really appreciate it, I’m sure Amanda will appreciate it, and I know the whole Portland tech community will too.

(Image courtesy Misserion. Used under Creative Commons.)

[UPDATE]

And here’s what you said.

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Background that may help (or may not)

16 Responses to “How would you describe the Portland open source, Web, and mobile startup scene? [Updated]”

  1. cameron says:

    I am very interested in reading what Amanda finds.

    Any way to get on a list to be contacted when she is ready to publish?

  2. Rick Turoczy says:

    I’ll definitely post about the book when it’s available, that’s for sure. But I can also make note of folks like you who want to be contacted when it’s available (just in case you don’t want to have to sift through all of the other jibber jabber until then. ;) )

  3. Nabil says:

    The Portland tech community is easily the most fraternal I’ve been involved in or heard about: many bootstrapped startups and consultants, as well as more established businesses, each with an interest in making EVERYONE shine, not just themselves. It is incredibly refreshing to be involved in a tech scene that truly functions as a community.

  4. Nancy King says:

    I’d describe it as unassuming, focused on their craft and very collaborative. The main ingredients for great things. I’d add, quirky, just like Portland in general. We are unexpected at our core.

  5. Steven says:

    To maintain my geek cred, I’ve written a response in (rudimentary) haiku form.

    Fast and flexible
    Open Source is S.O.P.
    Side projects galore

  6. Ed Borasky says:

    Oh, man … where to start? I moved here 24 years ago last Wednesday from the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. I could say a lot about the open source web mobile startup scene, but I think I’ll focus on the two areas I know best — open source and the tremendous sense of unity that has emerged here over the past few months of challenging economic times. I’ve read all the articles that have gone by about

    * well-educated people moving here without jobs,
    * unemployment second only to Michigan,
    * the lack of a strong “university” to seed startups,
    * the reluctance of venture capital to invest here,
    * etc., etc., etc.

    Well … first of all, I think the folks up the hill at OHSU might want to take exception to the “university” dig. But, as corny as this may sound, we have each other. And Linus Torvalds — open source doesn’t get much better than Linux and Git! And Cubespace. And Crea8camp. And Silicon Florist. And Beer and Blog. And Strange Love Live. And Open Source Bridge. And #trainporn. And allclassical.org. And Portland Ten.

    Lack of a university? Portland *is* a university!

    Oh yeah … there’s some pretty good beer if you know where to look. So … who’s up for organizing a food cart tour during Open Source Bridge??

  7. Jmartens says:

    The early stage startup tech scene is a clique.

  8. Collaborative – especially the software and web elements – as shaped and flavored by many of the SN tools and environments that folks working in that space frequent. There is very little ‘secret-sauce/IP’ swagger, though I think the relative amount of IP being hatched is equivalent to most tech-design center cities today – much more likely to get multiple responses to a request for help or question than ‘why do you want to know, who are you, who do you work for?…type responses.

    Community oriented – both socially and professionally (see above re: tools), with a growing, flexible overlap between the two, which adds the third way that this work here in PDX feels different than it has in the past (other tech blooms have happened: ‘silicon forest’, remember that?):

    Fun and excitement. People actually enjoy each others’ input and contribution – it doesn’t feel stiff and overly scheduled (like ‘work’) but more like ‘side projects’ – at any given time, I feel like folks here can pick and choose between a bunch of potential contributions – some on their own stuff, some on others’ stuff – and attribution (for the most part) gets done and done right. So, what is building is camaraderie and trust in an atmosphere of competence, openness, and ‘we are going to get there together’

  9. Some people might think that tech side projects are hobbies, but usually they amount to work done for the greater good, which would produce income in a fair world. Often we tech folks have to alternate between less-meaningful work that pays, and meaningful work that feeds our souls–and helps others. When given a choice between “work” and an outside life, we ask “Why not both?”

    Open-source software licenses provide protection from large corporations with aggressive legal departments. In contrast, patent laws are dysfunctional from the perspective of a small business–because a small business cannot defend even a solid patent against a large corporation. If there were such a thing as an “open patent”–that provided in the patent world what open software provides in the copyright world–then we would be more focused on creating products, not just software.

    Like artists, we are driven to create what we believe has value. Maybe what we call our side projects are really the equivalent of an artist’s portfolio. For the most talented, those side projects open doors to interesting projects that can pay the bills.

    While waiting for the next interesting income-generating project, we spend time around other tech folks who can remind us that yes, our side-project software creations are worthy of praise.

    We’ve learned that monetizing our creative efforts requires that we balance our solitary coding instincts with social networking. That perspective has yielded rich tech-oriented networking opportunities here in Portland. These events are identified in the Silicon Florist blog, the Calagator calendar, and sometimes in the LinkedIn PDX Technology Professionals group announcements.

    These events are mostly free of glad-handing sales types, and this allows introverts to feel comfortable; conversations are expected to start with moments of awkwardness.

    We lament the fact that government leaders haven’t learned the importance of nurturing (i.e. less heavily taxing) small, fragile startups that create new things of value. That makes it harder for startups to grow into the large corporations that government can heavily tax (including indirectly, through employee salaries).

    Unfortunately large corporations typically fail to recognize that individuals, not business processes, are the true engines of innovation. Fortunately some small businesses are smart enough to hire the tech folks who demonstrate their ability to generate value. These are the success stories that inspire a continued focus on creating.

  10. franz says:

    Whelp – I love Portland. It’s a great place to live. I moved here in 1998 and I’ve worked in every capacity in the dot-com scene. Over the years I’ve spent less energy in local networking, so I’m far from the most connected guy around these days – but years ago Scott Kveton used to run my severs, and was paid in beer… so I’m not a noob. ;)

    I run http://concrete5.org. We’re an open source content management system based here in Portland. We used to be a full service interactive media firm and just under a year ago we decided to release our previously commercial software for free to make the world a better place. We’re translated to a dozen languages, we’ve got thousands of developers in our forums, we’re showing up in RFPs as a required option right next to Drupal and Joomla. I’m not a guy with an idea, I’m a guy with a product that is working today.

    It is true, I love Portland. I’m not confident we could have built a CMS as revolutionary in approach and UI if we were in San Francisco or Seattle – too many distractions. There’s a passion for real work here. That’s great. There’s a lot of bright (and affordable) workers with cool ideas and prototypes.

    What Portland does NOT have is any real business scene. I’m sure I’m making enemies by saying this publicly, but someone has to be frank.. Working for Nike or Intel is a stepping stone everyone trips over. Then what? Make a startup? Awesome for you. #1 problem; building a better mouse trap is not really going to help you. Any business is a success because of their partnerships, their executive team, their ability to connect with competitors and customers, oh, and then their product. This is hard for the bright engineer in us to swallow, but unless you’re watching Beta instead of VHS – it’s true.

    OHSU is a fine place, but it is no Standford. The benefit of a great school isn’t just a great education, its a great rolodex. The fact that Linus hangs out in Beavertron is a nice tidbit for the news, but frankly he doesn’t get out much and it looks like GIT is where his mind is at. Wade (wikipedia) should really be mentioned as often as Linus is, but beyond the AboutUs board seat I don’t see a lot of local activity there either. I’m not sure what the OTBC is supposed to be about, but when I called them looking to put together an advisory board of open source heavy hitters for our internationally recognized project, the answer I got was “check out P.O.S.S.E – I think they provide some local services around open source in Portland..” uhhh.. yeah.. riiight. The OEN is a meat market of service providers who at best poke holes in business plans for a small fee. And the SAO, while I am eager to see what Scott does with it, has traditionally been a way to pay slightly less for health insurance.

    Every big client we’ve ever had as come from out of state.
    Most of them from California, Boston and New York.

    I don’t mean to come off like a jaded, judgmental ass… (woops, too late!) and again, I deeply love Portland. I am a transplant, I’ve had two kids here, there’s no place I’d rather live in the greater 48… So I say this with nothing but love and the hope that perhaps my rant will help others avoid some mistakes I’ve made, perhaps motivate some real players to come out of the woodwork and get involved, and of course not overly negatively impact my ability to work here.. But Portland’s interactive scene seems to still be the same point it was ten years ago when the PDC financed the Creative Services building as a way to attract clients from out of town to shop our creative talent. (and yeah, that worked out real well)

    OsCon leaving here for San Hose was a huge loss. Someone smart should be worried about why that happened. OsBridge should be a good thing I guess, but what we really need is established people, events, companies from /elsewhere/ looking at Portland. Not Portlanders patting themselves on the back and complimenting their respective white belts. To make a food analogy (because I do that) there are waaay too many soux chefs, not enough well known executive chefs, and certainly not enough patrons. There IS some cool stuff happening here, just as there is always some great food when a bunch of soux chefs get together at a BBQ. But the challenge Portland has is who is selling and eating these amazing meals?

    Frankly, I think the best we can shoot for today is “San Francisco’s Garage” – and even that is a goal not a reality.

    Think I’m wrong? Show me.
    franz at concrete5.org

  11. These are great comments. It’s time to call the group together. Make the 40 year plan.

  12. Andy says:

    - Many small companies with neat ideas, bootstrapping in most cases
    - Lack of capital for web-based companies

    We are running http://trubee.com. Bootstrapped, Beaverton-based

  13. Paul says:

    I would describe the Portland startup scene as inbred – many being direct or indirect descendants of Tektronix. I’ve been involved with several startups that either had funding and/or management from the same “line”. Portland startups will always need to look outside of the state if they want to go to the next level. 75% of the startups that I’ve been involved with (the ones that sold), have been purchased by out-of-state companies. There’s plenty of mico VCs in town for funding – you just need to have a good idea.

  14. Ed Borasky says:

    I was part of Floating Point Systems, which was a “direct descendant” of Tektronix. But I think the current crop of startups is more likely to have been founded by escapees from Intel rather than Tektronix. But “inbred” — sure, I’ll accept that. I’d be a native Portlander if my parents had the good sense to move here before I was born. They didn’t, so I had to do it all on my own. :)

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