It was like Christmas morning. I began my public transit commute and started combing through the news for the day. When what to my wandering eyes should appear but this amazing headline in the Portland Business Journal, “New Umpqua division aims to ‘disrupt’ banking industry.”
Umpqua? That’s my bank! Well, one of them. And from the sounds of it they’re doing something to help startups rethink the banking industry. I can tell, because Umpqua used the word “disrupt.” And disrupt is the word you always use when you’re a corporation looking to work with startups. I know this.
THIS IS SO EXCITING! AND OREGON WOULD BE SO GOOD AT THIS! SQUEEEE!
And then, it hits me. In the first sentence. The lede, as they call it in the biz:
The company that owns the largest Oregon-based bank is opening a Silicon Valley-based subsidiary that will test new financial services technologies.
We have just lost cabin pressure.
WTF? Umpqua Bank, an Oregon-owned bank that is among Oregon’s Most Admired Companies of 2015, is going to be disruptive in Silicon Valley? With all due respect to my friends at the PBJ, this must be a typo.
Again, WTF, Umpqua?
I didn’t even get any further. Nor did I need to. Cue steam coming out of ears.
And so then I had some meetings and I had a few hours to calm down and think through this.
Know what? I’m still pissed. But now I’m both pissed and I’ve had time to think about it. So allow me, if you will, to provide some basic reasons as to why Umpqua should rethink this poor decision. And why Umpqua would be much better off starting this venture in their own backyard.
0) Don’t even get me started that it’s called “Pivotus.”
1) This isn’t about decrying the Bay Area.
I don’t have any desire to try besmirch the Bay Area or argue their dominance in the world of startups. It is, without a doubt, the hub of activity in terms of startup activity and available capital and innovative thinking. I’m not arguing that, at all. The Bay Area is momentum.
And that’s why I’m arguing that that is the very reason you don’t go there to do something like this.
Exactly what kind of presence does Umpqua even have in the Bay Area? I mean, I hear they have a San Jose branch. Have they not heard about the prices down there? And the level of buzz down there? How are they, as a small player among giants, going to get above that noise?
There are a ton more questions there but let’s just tie it off with “If all of your friends jumped off of a bridge, would you Umpqua?” All I know for sure is that it wouldn’t be a bridge in Oregon.
2) Some of the most interesting and “disruptive” activity in fintech is happening right under your free ice cream wielding nose.
If I were a bank in Oregon, you know what I would be watching with great interest? Portland. Hell, every bank should be watching Portland.
Speaking of… did I mention that our entire damn state thought through how to reinvent getting capital to entrepreneurs? Also did I mention that a number of those companies mentioned above have been through startup accelerators that have taught them how to engage with innovation projects like this?
3) You have peers in Portland who are already well phrased at collaborating with startups.
You’re a corporation trying to interact with startups and trying to use startup thinking to be more innovative. Hmm. That sounds interesting. I wish there were some companies you could use as role models or for peer support.
Not to mention the guy who used to be in charge of product innovation for Target and the dude who invented the wiki and helped Nike get innovative around data live here. Here. Not the Bay Area. Here.
The folks who have been there and done that are right here, already. And they’re accessible. Why are you looking elsewhere?
4) There is existing Oregon infrastructure with which you could engage, literally overnight.
While I would love to see this happen in Portland, honestly, it could happen any number of interesting places in Oregon. Have you seen what’s happening in Bend? What about Eugene? Corvallis? Independence? I mean, come on, Umpqua.
Not to mention that PIE and RAIN and Portland Seed Fund and Oregon Angel Fund and Technology Association of Oregon and Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and TiE and investors and mentors and startups and talent are all waiting for you. Right here. Ready to collaborate.
Plus Portland State, Oregon State, and the University of Oregon. Who have all been ramping up their participation in the startup community.
So many resources. Affordable, accessible, and available.
This is just a rant. I’m sure decisions have been made and ships have sailed. But if there’s even the slightest chance that there’s still some wiggle room on this decision, I’d strongly encourage you to rethink it.
Because missing an opportunity like this is just sad. For everyone who could have potentially been involved. Umpqua included.
You, Umpqua, have an opportunity to do something truly meaningful for the community you call home. An opportunity to truly put your money where your mouth is. And a chance to be a critical component of the amazing startup scene we have going here.
And I’m willing to bet that you could pull it all off for a fraction of what your Bay Area office space alone is costing you. With far broader impact for your company and your community.
But I get it. People look elsewhere all of the time. Which is likely what I’ll be doing for my banking needs.