May 11th, 2011
Keeping it weird: Austin, Texas vs. Portland, Oregon — a startup support beat down
[Editor: Scott Olson of FounderBuzz recently ran a Facebook ad campaign that delivered some very interesting insights about Facebook and the Portland startup community. I begged a guest post out of him on the topic.]
When I moved to Portland from Austin three years ago I had heard about and was struck by the similarities between those two cities. There is a lot in common between Austin and Portland extending to outdoor living, environmental consciousness, education, overall culture, and active startup community. The success of the “Keep Austin/Portland Weird” campaigns in both cities was reflective of many of these similarities.
Most interesting to me, however, as a 15-year startup veteran, was the relative support of the startup communities and opportunities for entrepreneurs in Austin and Portland. I recently ran a head to head test on Facebook that gives an interesting look at the interest level in startups in Portland and Austin. The results anecdotally show that despite all the similarities, Austin appears to have more interest in startups in general than Portland.
As background, I run a startup interview site FounderBuzz that features video interviews with the founders of startups. I feature companies around the United States, but because of my background I have most of my interviews with startups in Austin and Portland. I decided to run a Facebook ad that targeted getting people to click through to my Facebook Page.
The ads were identical other than one targeted people in Portland vs. Austin.
Facebook allows you to nicely target your ads to a custom audience. I chose to target people who were older than 18 and had indicated through Facebook likes that they were generally interested in technology and startups. For both Austin and Portland, I targeted individuals who lived within 50 miles of the city. The following images show the respective criteria for ad display and corresponding reach:
The difference in the results between the two cities really surprised me. The Austin ad had a click through rate (CTR) almost 3.5x the Portland ad (.059% vs .017%). In Austin, of the 42 clicks on the ad I received 8 likes on my Facebook page, while for the 4 clicks in Portland, I received none. The end result of this is that running my ad in Portland was costing me more than 1.5x what it was costing me to run the ad in Austin because of the CTR. I only ran the ads for a week in both cities because after seeing these results, and being on a tight budget, I turned off the ad for Portland and focused on the Austin ad.
I will be the first one to admit that this is a highly unscientific comparison, but it does yield some interesting food for thought. As someone who has worked in the startup community in both cities, I do personally have the impression that the support for startups is simply better in Austin. In my opinion, here are a few things really working in Austin’s favor when it comes to startups:
VC involvement in networking
One thing that jumps out at me that benefits the Austin startup community is the active involvement of the venture community in matching executives with hot startups. If I were looking for a new opportunity, the first place I would start would be with my VC and angel network that could usually point out a number of the hottest startups in town and make appropriate introductions.
Interaction with Universities
It seems like you can’t walk down the hall of an Austin startup without bumping into a college intern. Austin utilizes the University of Texas and other Texas colleges to a great advantage. The interaction between the startup community and universities is active and mutually beneficial.
One thing Austin really has going for it are entrepreneurs who are on their 2nd, 3rd, or even greater successful startup. Experience is a big advantage and this also plays into the first point of VC involvement in networking. When someone has a success you can bet that the venture group is looking to place him or her into their most promising new startup
Austin sees itself as a tech city. The entire community, whether they are in a startup or not, pays attention to the dramatic impact of technology on their city. SxSW has also evolved to build that impression and success is building on itself.
For Portland, I think all of these characteristics are attainable goals. They key is to celebrate and build on our successes, retain our talent and attract supportive Venture Capital groups with an interest in business in Portland. Building on the active support of venture groups like Intel Capital and True Ventures will only increase the chances for growing a thriving startup community.
(Image courtesy Mediafury. Used under Creative Commons.)