February 20th, 2014
Reminiscing and retrospecting: Strands of Simple’s acquisition story pre-date the company’s Portland existence
When the news of Simple’s acquisition hit this morning, it immediately dawned on me that I have been so incredibly lucky to be around—recording and blogging—the company’s entire Portland existence.
And then—as I sat reminiscing instead of doing things I was supposed to be doing—I realized that part of this story actually began far before Simple. When their acquiring company, BBVA, first made an impact with this generation of Oregon startups.
Before Simple and BBVA, there was Strands and BBVA
Back in late 2007, BBVA led a $24 million round in a Corvallis startup called MyStrands. At the time, the company was focused on behavior analysis, specifically for making music recommendations:
MyStrands develops technologies to better understand people’s taste and help them discover things they like and didn’t know about. MyStrands has created a social recommender engine that is able to provide real-time recommendations of products and services through computers, mobile phones and other Internet-connected devices.
With that funding, Strands made a couple of key acquisitions. One of which was Portland-based NetworthIQ, a product designed to help people with making personal financial decisions. Which seemed a fairly odd acquisition for what was then basically a music recommendation service. But something told me the recent investors had something else in mind.
So, how and why did NetworthIQ and Strands come together? Up until a few weeks ago, the face of Strands on the web was MyStrands, the social music site. It may seem odd for a personal finance site to come under that umbrella. But, now that moneyStrands has been announced, I think it starts to make a lot more sense right? Strands is starting to take the personalization and recommendation technology that they’ve built in new directions and personal finance was one of those directions. My primary job now is to channel my knowledge of the personal finance market gleaned from building NetworthIQ into the moneyStrands roadmap and keep NetworthIQ humming along.
Alex Payne moves to Portland
Simple’s first footprint in Portland was literally that. Alex Payne—one of the early developers at Twitter and well known in tech circles as the guy responsible for building out their API—had just relocated to Portland from the Bay Area.
Most of us assumed that Alex’s move was so that he could be in closer proximity to Rael Dornfest—a Portland-based cofounder and developer whose startup, Values of N, and its product, Sandy, had been acquired by Twitter in 2008—who happened to work with Alex on projects. Rael had worked out of PIE from time-to-time, so it was natural to invite Alex to work out of the space as well. With not so hidden giddiness about the potential of the association with Twitter.
Little did we know at the time that our assumptions were wrong. But that came into relief fairly quickly.
Turns out that Alex wasn’t just up in Portland for a change of scenery. He was here to change his career. By joining BankSimple as its cofounder.
And so he started forming the dev shop here. Hiring local talent like Bill Derouchey of Ziba, Thomas Lockney—who like Alex had an affection for Scala—and a number of other talented Portland tech types.
BankSimple falls for Portland
The next part of the story is likely some permutation of truth and Portland startup folklore, but whatever. We’re reminiscing here.
While BankSimple had a Portland office, this wasn’t their only presence. They had a headquarters in Brooklyn and an office in the Bay Area. But that wouldn’t last for long.
Rumor has it that the BankSimple executives came to town to visit the Portland office on one of those weeks. You know the ones. Like in July? When it’s beautiful out and the town is alive and you’re like “this place is amazing!” One of those weeks that makes you forget winter weeks like this one? Yeah. Those weeks.
And that day, according to the tales, they sort of fell in love with Portland. And decided to consolidate BankSimple in Portland. And while that may all just be a little Portland-esque creative license, BankSimple’s post on the matter belies that underlying affection for the Rose City.
We are reinventing a centuries-old industry that has grown too complex. We are fixing this by coupling great technology with human customer service to craft something completely new. At the core of BankSimple is this vision and for our move we were looking for a city where the people share our optimism and values.
New York and San Francisco share these qualities, but Portland provides the right environment for us to grow our team and solidify our culture. We’re ramping up our hiring in Portland significantly – particularly in customer relations – where there is a deep pool of talent and room to expand. In addition, we have access to a strong technical community and a growing startup culture that we are proud to be a part of. The city offers a great quality of life that has already attracted a number of our engineers to make the move from San Francisco, well before we decided to double down on Portland.
And that decision? Well received. To say the least.
Further simplifying Simple
The last part of the conversion over to the entity we know today, with a new name and a new look and feel. BankSimple was now Simple.
And they started teasing with how awesome the service was going to be.
And then they started provide access to the platform. And seeing what worked and what didn’t. And they kept rolling out features. And being transparent about their experiences.
Bring us up today, when the big news hit.
It has been an honor and a privilege to be an observer of the Simple story arc—one which capped off with one of the largest exits for a Portland tech startup. But they always had a big vision. So that makes sense.
I’ll look forward to continuing to monitor the ongoing story of Simple. Although not as closely, perhaps, as I once did. When they were a young scrappy startup. I might, instead, save those words and blog posts for some of the new up and coming companies in town. Many of whom I have yet to meet. But I’m really looking forward to documenting their journeys, as well.
Well done, Simple. Thanks for letting me tag along.