February 2nd, 2011

Portland should be ordering dogfood by the truckload

Portland should be ordering dogfood by the truckload

[Editor: Given the Startup America Partnership announcement, it seemed an appropriate time to release the latest post from guest writer Dave Chase. It's a piece calling the City of Portland to action by encouraging them to shop locally for technology. It's a similar stance to "Buying local isn't just for food."]

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for a software startup is the glacial pace at which governments move. In this post, I’m going to suggest something that Mayor Sam Adams and the City of Portland can start today. Fortunately, it’s already identified the value of “dogfooding” (i.e., being a proving ground and reference) of local software.

I’d argue that there’s not anything they can do that would have a greater impact than “dogfooding.” As I always say when advising startups, “the cheapest form of capital is revenue.” The actions by the city suggested here can have a bigger impact than a seed fund (not that I’m arguing against that). The city ought to look at the range of local software companies as part of their “portfolio” not unlike venture firms. Like a venture portfolio, these groups of companies have the potential to generate a lot of jobs and income for the city.

The potential revenue from a city the size of Portland, let alone the state of Oregon is enormous for an emerging software company. Better yet, the city’s ability to be a reference site has immense value for getting more customers. The oft-lamented “lack of capital” is rarely an issue for a software company with significant and growing revenues. There’s also the obvious “recycling” of dollars that happen in terms of income and corporate taxes.

Today, the mayor should assign someone on his staff to be “Chief Dogfood Officer” (CDO) in the city’s IT department. Cities have many of the same functions and challenges as businesses, let alone other municipalities. The CDO would let the local software community that the city is open for business and start to lay out a roadmap how they could incorporate local companies technology into the city’s plans. Naturally, the city needs to ensure that the products and prices are competitive. Even if a company falls short, that frank feedback has great value.

The CDO could add even more value to the software community if they also became Chief Evangelist. The City/mayor have a bully-pulpit that can add even more value. There’s a model they can follow employed by our friends out in Hillsboro at Intel Capital. One of the things they do that adds huge value to their portfolio companies is hosting Technology Days at important companies.

For example, when I worked with an Intel Capital backed company I presented before senior executives at a major studio, ad agency and insurance company at different Technology Days. Intel spent time with those organizations to do a match-making of sorts. They worked with a senior decision maker at the corporation to identify the companies from Intel Capital’s portfolio that would be of highest interest/fit for that corporation.

On the Technology Day, the corporation assembled all of the key decision makers giving these startups a great boost by getting in front of people they would have otherwise struggled to get a meeting with. In the process, Intel Capital made their portfolio grow in value by getting these companies a foot in the door. Presumably, the mayor’s office has the ability to talk with senior leaders at companies ranging from Nike to Regence to PGE to OHSU to Precision Castparts. They could setup similar Technology Days for these corporations to see the best and brightest local software companies delivering value to both the large organization and the software company.

Not that this should take a lot of resource but I’m confident the Software Association of Oregon would gladly assist in this kind of endeavor. The City can lead the way and then bring corporations (both for-profit and not-for-profit) into this process. For lean software companies, every day that passes has a cost.

I hope the mayor and City recognize the immediate value they can add and have this be at the top of their agenda for economic development.

About Dave Chase

Prior to working in startups, Dave spent 12 years at Microsoft in various senior marketing and general management roles, including his role as Worldwide Healthcare Industry Director and Managing Director for Industry Marketing & Relations for the Digital Media industry. He both founded industry organizations and served on their board that played pivotal roles in the growth of those industries.

In the aftermath of the dotcom bust, he was selected to take a leadership role within the online ad industry to grow online’s share of the overall ad market in concert with AOL, Yahoo!, DoubleClick/Google and other market leaders. During his tenure, MSN championed three major initiatives that the industry adopted that led to the turnaround of the online ad industry.

Prior to joining MSFT, Dave was a senior consultant with Accenture’s Healthcare Practice working with a wide array of healthcare providers and systems. Dave has also been a successful investor and adviser to several early-stage companies.

He can be found on Twitter as @chasedave.

(Image courtesy Vicki & Chuck Rogers. Used under Creative Commons.)

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9 Responses to “Portland should be ordering dogfood by the truckload”

  1. Matt N says:

    Dave (& Silicon Florist):

    You are exactly right on. The City of Portland & State of Oregon (can be any city here) are looking to do exactly this, eat our own dogfood. The Software Association of Oregon is working hand in hand with the government organizations to open their eyes to not just emerging technology companies but, also, to the existing tech companies who make up our entire, statewide tech community.

    The SAO entered into this line of exposing our unique and experienced tech companies to the city and the State over the past 18 months. Building on your idea of ‘Technology Days’ is exactly what we have done. The new Oregon Governor’s site (http://governor.oregon.gov/) was created by a local tech firm, Typethink, just as one example, I can publicly point to. There is a lot more to come in the government space, unfortunately, as you and I and all of us know, government doesn’t turn on a dime like we do in the private industry. But, it’s getting there…hang tight as there are several other ‘dogfood’ projects in the works.

    As for the large IT purchasers in Oregon (whether it’s a Nike/Intel/Columbia Sportswear/Standard/Regence to the Utilities-PGE/Pacificorp/NW Natural) getting them exposed to the local tech firms is also in the works in the form a sort of Tech-day event(and other execution) as well, because of our relationships and communications with them to determine their own specific IT needs – which some can be garnered right here in Oregon. Details are being worked as we speak.

    Now, beyond the event concept, we, the SAO, and our tech community continue to work on exactly what you are referring to, finding opportunities for revenue right here as well as outside of Portland. The SAO has been instrumental at creating key engagements in the B-2-B space to enable business relationships to grow. Some are in the works as we speak, but, cannot be announced…yet.

    One of the changes we (Oregon-wide) need to change is blowing our own horns of success.

    So, Dave et al, continue to stay in tune with the ever-evolving Oregon tech scene in terms of growth as well as the increased rate of innovation happening here. There is a change happening…

    Matt Nees
    Software Association of Oregon

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Silicon Florist, Jeff Martens and Laszlo Szalvay, Mark Lawler. Mark Lawler said: RT @siliconflorist: Portland should be ordering dogfood by the truckload /cc @chasedave @mayorsamadams http://bit.ly/elvclX [...]

  3. Ken Westin says:

    This was something we have been working on in our company, moving to local services. I saw that we were using a lot of services from the Bay Area when there were local services that in most cases provided better service, the trick was finding them. I thought it would be helpful to list out services we use and I started a site to start categorizing services here:


    The problem has been finding the time it takes to manage and promote the list as well as redesign it as it is pretty fugly. Heck I will donate the site and domain to a good home if someone like the SAO can move the concept forward.

  4. Mark Lawler says:

    Great guest post. This is also the easiest way to secure funding… If you can show you have customers who are willing to pay for your product / services today vs. having simply “an idea” this is a real catalyst to securing future funding. It also helps set up a situation where you can look at revenue-based funding as well as to possibly be entirely self funded. A real win no matter how you slice it. One of my biggest complaints about the Federal Stimulus $ that arrived in Oregon was how much of that $ went to out of state firms… I’m not advocating protectionism, but thinking locally first isn’t a bad idea.

  5. Dave Chase says:

    Matt @ SAO – That is fantastic to hear. I had a chance to meet with Skip Newbury from the mayor’s office after I wrote this piece. One of the things I mentioned is that it’s easy to underestimate the impact of the mayor’s bullypulpit. With Twitter, YouTube, etc. the mayor can be a modest sized media property in its own right. SAO & the Mayor need to really trumpet what’s gone on and fuel the virtuous cycle that can become a flywheel. Leveraging Ken’s work on siliconforest.net if you don’t already have something like it would be great. In a cash-starved startup every day matters so I hope it has the right level of attention.

    To Mark’s point, my feeling has always been that “tie goes to the local”. I think most entrepreneurs simply want the opportunity to compete. You lose 100% of the deals you don’t compete on. Having been on the buy side of the software purchase equation, the value of having a committed local company can be a difference maker.

  6. Dave Chase says:

    @SAOpdx In response to your tweet (http://twitter.com/#!/SAOpdx/status/32935755072405504), Matt did a great job of responding above. Sounds like you are doing the right things but I’m reminded of Brad Feld’s book — “Do More Faster” — which would be a good guiding principle :). The Tech Days I mentioned Intel Capital does are a great model – no need to reinvent the wheel. I’d start with the companies associated with the board members of orgs involved with efforts such as the Oregon Business Plan, Greenlight Portland, OEN, PDC, etc. These are folks who all prefer action over talk so put them to the test.

    P.S. My apologies to Skip Newberry for misspelling his last name in my earlier comment

  7. Herb Williams says:

    I so agree with this Ohio has the same requirements. I mange group all over the US and I have not found the talent that we have here in Portland.

  8. [...] Portland should be ordering dogfood by the truckload [...]

  9. [...] bad. Your tax dollars at work. And I’m not being facetious. Kind of hearkens back to that whole dogfood conversation, doesn’t [...]

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