August 7th, 2013
Six years of Silicon Florist (or How a poorly written blog with ridiculously long headlines somehow spawns awesome things like PIE, TechFestNW, and Oregon Story Board)
I have a tendency to forego writing about the stuff on which I’m working—no matter how much Jason Grigsby chides me for it—as I half-ass my way through the Portland startup scene. Because, quite frankly, I find the stuff that you’re building to be far more interesting and far more inspiring.
That said, at least once a year, I like to take a moment to look back and to highlight a few of the things I’m doing. It’s a status report of sorts. For you. And a way for me to assess whether I’m making any progress.
And the birthday of Silicon Florist seems as good of a time as any to do that.
So even though I have about 50 tabs open with topics on posts I should be writing, I’d just ask for you to indulge me this one annual post. And then we’ll return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
I’m currently sitting in a chair in the sky. Heading to Omaha. To help with a startup accelerator and to mentor some startups and to speak to the Omaha startup scene (which is awesome, by the way). And there in the back of my head, I’m wondering how I got myself into this whole situation. And in Fight-Club-esque fashion I suddenly come to the realization that all of the awesome craziness in which I find myself lucky enough to be embroiled is thanks to a very poorly written and sporadically published blog…
Silicon Florist is six years old
Six years ago today, I sat up in the middle of the night, wandered over to my machine, and registered the URL for Silicon Florist. My thought—and the motivation to get out of bed—was that if TechCrunch wasn’t going to cover all of the awesome stuff I saw happening in the Portland startup scene. And if the local media didn’t quite see what was happening yet. Then I was going to help.
I was inspired by the open source folks with whom I worked here in town. How they would openly contribute to make things better, regardless of the potential for recuperation. I couldn’t really contribute code to the projects in a meaningful way. (There weren’t many open source efforts needing expertise in BASIC, VAX/VMS, or ActionScript.) And I couldn’t really build anything of my own. But I had been working with startups for a dozen years. And I’d been blogging for two-thirds of that time. So I knew I could give something back.
So I did. By open sourcing my marketing and promotions skills to help shine a light on what other folks were doing.
It was really as simple as that. I’d had some experience with WordPress. So I threw an ugly little theme together. And went for it. I just started banging out posts. Every day or so. Writing about stuff. Writing about what people were doing. How they were experimenting. Where they were succeeding. And regrettably, where they were failing.
But I never considered myself a journalist. I wasn’t interested in being objective. Instead I was interested in bolstering the confidence of this nascent but growing group of entrepreneurs. I was interested in highlighting what they were doing well. And decidedly less interested in poking holes in what they were doing wrong.
I mean, who was I to critique their efforts? They were getting that already. From friends. From family. From peers.
But if I could get a few more people interested in what they were doing? That. That might just be helpful. More so than being yet another naysayer.
That was 2007. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.
We’ve seen awesome companies grow. Amazing entrepreneurs come into their own. Compelling events come to fruition. We’ve seen the city recognize the startup scene as a critical part of its ongoing success. We’ve even seen Oregon venture capital investments surpass Washington for the first time in ten years.
But most importantly—much like Portland itself—we’ve slowly built up a community that is both conducive to the people who are here and attractive to talented folks who relocate to the Rose City and make our community even better.
And we’ve done that together. And it’s been awesome.
I’m so thankful that you’ve stopped by from time to time to see what I’ve had to say. Or what I’ve found. Or what I’m amplifying from another publication. Thank you. Sincerely. It has been an absolute pleasure to watch—and document via Silicon Florist—your amazing progress since August of 2007.
And I’m equally thankful for the hundreds of founders and developers and investors whom I’ve had the chance to meet. And the friendships I’ve made around the world. Simply because I decided to bang on a keyboard for a few minutes every now and then.
And just so this doesn’t come off like a complete eulogy, let me state clearly: I have no intent of stopping. There’s still a ton to do. And there’s more and more happening here everyday. Honestly, what you’re doing is motivation enough to keep me writing for years to come. So, sorry. If you were praising the heavens that I’d decided to lay down my proverbial pen, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer. Because there is still a great deal about which to write.
I just can’t guarantee that that the grammar will ever get better.
And the weirdest part of this whole story isn’t even the blog. It’s what that small seemingly insignificant act of starting to share my thoughts has precipitated…
PIE is four years old
Four years ago, because of Silicon Florist, a guy named Renny Gleeson contacted me. Renny had this hypothesis. His hypothesis was that startups and the entrepreneurial technologist who founded them were another creative class; a group of people who chose to express themselves with apps and code instead of pictures and words.
And the company for whom he worked—a Portland-based communications firm called Wieden+Kennedy—wanted to help. They wanted to foster that next generation of creatives in town. Because they were changing the way stories were told. Because W+K wanted to be part of that.
And so a group of us came up with a concept we thought might work. And we cofounded PIE.
What began as an coworking space that helped very early stage companies likes of Urban Airship, AppFog, Simple, and Epipheo, morphed into a startup accelerator. And my day job.
To date, the companies with whom we’ve had the honor to work have raised more than $100 million in venture capital and have created more than 400 jobs. Out of thin air. People with an idea and the ability to manipulate some technology.
I’m completely blown away by that every single day. And humbled that those amazing folks continue to give back to PIE
We just announced our third class, a group of seven startup. We’re already a few weeks into the program. Demo Day is October 11. And they’re just amazing. You’re really going to like these folks. And they’re really going to have an impact on the startup scene around here—whether they succeed or fail. Just like the PIE alums who have come before them.
And I’m only getting the chance to work with these amazing people because of a blog.
Which reminds me of another story…
TechFestNW is two (even though it’s only one)
A few years ago, a guy named Mark Zusman contacted me. Mark’s day job was serving as editor of Willamette Week, the local alt weekly paper for Portland. But he also oversaw an event called MusicFestNW.
MusicFestNW had originally started as NXNW, the Northwest version of SXSW. But that didn’t really pan out. Maybe it was timing. Maybe it was Portland wasn’t quite ready yet. Whatever the case, it just didn’t work.
But the music continued on. And now MusicFestNW has become one of the leading independent music festivals in the United States, attracting ridiculously talented artists from around the world and up-and-coming local bands, as well.
Given the genesis of the music event, the MFNW folks been keeping an eye on SXSW and its continued success. And they’d seen amazing tech events springing up all over—like BIG Omaha and GROW conf. And so, they thought, maybe it was time to add a tech component to the lineup.
And given that I was out there blathering about the Portland startup scene, they tapped me to help. And it was really an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.
So we ran a beta test last year. A teetering first attempt called PDXconf. And it went pretty well. We screwed up a few things. But it was a good start. So we decided to do it again.
And thanks to the help of all sorts of people in the tech scene—and an amazing partnership we’ve forged with OMSI—what was PDXconf has now become TechFestNW. And TFNW promises to be an amazing event this year. With super interesting people from Portland. And people from elsewhere who reflect a Portland ethos in their work.
But the real magic isn’t just the tech. It’s the fact that it’s a true festival. It’s an event that allows you to go to three days of tech at TFNW, four nights of parties with all sorts of awesome people, and six nights of incredible music at MFNW. Tech during the day. Music at night. A whole swirling maelstrom of creative awesomeness and inspiration and entertainment.
Admittedly, I may be a little biased.
Oh. And since you’re a startup type? You get a few bucks off your wristband. So I’m hoping to see you there. Because it wouldn’t really be the same without you. And I’d love to introduce you to a few folks.
Because, if there’s one thing I’ve found, its that events bring people together in really interesting ways. Which reminds me of another story…
Oregon Story Board is zero
A few years back, Jake Kuramoto was using Silicon Florist as the platform to manage Portland Lunch 2.0, a monthly gathering at a tech startup and a great excuse for folks to get together. Jake was doing so well with the event that it started to attract attention outside of the startup scene.
And that’s when I got the chance to meet Vince Porter. Vince had recently relocated to Portland to head up Oregon Film, the Oregon Governor’s Board of Film and Television. It was his job to encourage folks to film in Portland. So he’s part of the reason that things like Leverage and Grimm and Portlandia are shootinghere.
But this meeting was before those successes. And like Renny from W+K, Vince too had this thought that technology was changing the way we tell stories. And that startups were providing new platforms for expression. And so he had decided that wanted to get the digital storytelling industry involved with the startup scene.
And so we got together with Vince and they hosted a Lunch 2.0. And some great connections were made at the event. And conversations continued between Vince and me. Just another random event bringing people together.
Over the years, Vince started blogging. He helped mentor some of the startups at PIE. We kept talking And we worked on a few hackathons together. The latest effort was an inspiring day spent at Hayward Field, which—as luck would have it—has a short little digital story about it:
But Vince wanted to do more for the industry. And more for Oregon’s amazing creatives. So he came up with this idea: What if we took what we’d learned from working with tech startups at PIE and applied it to the digital storytelling industry?
And so we pitched that idea to the State of Oregon on the concept. And they decided to take a risk and pursue it with us.
That project is called Oregon Story Board. And it’s still in an embryonic state. But it’s happening and it looks promising. But we’ve got a lot to learn. That said, I’m really looking forward to that learning. And the challenge.
But I only have that opportunity ahead of me because of Silicon Florist. So weird.
If you’ve made it this far, I owe you a beer or another beverage of your choice. You really are a glutton for punishment. Thanks for sticking with it.
Long story short, I started blogging. Out of pure dumb luck and being in the right place at the right time, you’re here reading that blog today.
I didn’t do anything special. I just kept doing it. And six years has flown by.
And that led to cofounding PIE and getting to work with more amazing startups. Which led to cofounding TFNW. Which led to cofounding Oregon Story Board. Which led to juggling all of those efforts simultaneously. And affords me the opportunity to sit on boards like the TAO and OEN. And which has me in the enviable spot of being perceived as some sort of central figure to this awe inspiring Portland startup scene. Even though I’m not. I’m just a guy with a blog. And not a terribly good one, at that.
The real person making the Portland startup scene so incredible? It’s you. So keep doing that. Keep building things. Keep questioning. And keep striving. We’ll never make it without you.
And if you keep at it? I promise I will too. Pinkie swear.
Thank you so much for six awesome years, Portland. You all continue to amaze me every single day. There’s still a long ways to go. But we’re getting there. And I can’t wait to see what you—or I—happen to come up with next.