Old enough to drive: Silicon Florist is 16 years old

It’s become a tradition for me. Each year, I mark another passing year of Silicon Florist with a post about, well, Silicon Florist. How meta. Conceptually, I mean. Not the company. (If you’re curious about those previous birthday missives, feel free to jump to the bottom of this post to revel in the nostalgia of years gone by.) So, here on the sweet 16 of Silicon Florist, I’m just going to do what I’ve done the in the past. And vomit thoughts and words onto the Internet in a rambling and loosely intelligible way. Let’s get into it.

As the story goes… on this day in 2007, an idea I’d been mulling over came into sharp relief. Kind of one of those lightning-strike inspiration moments that cause you to be suddenly and immediately wide awake in the middle of the night. At least that’s how I remember it. I sat bolt upright, wandered to my computer, and headed to a domain registrar to grab “Silicon Forest.” But that was taken, so instead I opted for a clearly-thought-out-around-2AM pun that was the combination of Silicon Forest and the Rose City, Silicon Florist. Which, oddly enough, was available. Even the .com. Go figure.

And so it began.

Sixteen years ago, the inspiration to start Silicon Florist came very much from the outburst of activity I saw in the tech startups in the area. I had spent my entire existence — to that point — in tech startups. So like it or not, I was highly attuned to what was happening in that particular sector. I had weathered the dotcom bust. And was unknowingly tiptoeing toward the mortgage crisis.

But there was something new and energetic happening with tech startups in the area. Open source was helping people build applications more rapidly and with fewer people. The cloud was becoming a way to publish those apps without requiring someone to purchase a room full of servers. And the iPhone was inspiring any number of people to think of the potential of what could be possible by leveraging technology. Hackathons and throwing out product ideas was commonplace. And knowledge sharing through grassroots organized events — and larger more organized events — was increasing the connectivity and collaboration throughout the tech community.

Those were heady optimistic times, to be sure.

If I were to start this journey today, however, that origin story might be a very different story. The world of tech startups in Portland has changed a great deal over the years — largely in positive ways. There are folks like Malia Spencer at the Portland Business Journal who are sharing the news of local startups on a daily basis. And sometimes, GeekWire. We even make it into TechCrunch from time to time. (Which never used to happen and that fact — that lack of attention — was one of the motivating factors for starting Silicon Florist in the first place.) We’re seeing serial founders building new companies — and people closely tracking what those founders are doing. Investors that were just starting out when Silicon Florist started have become established investors with exits and IRR and stuff.

It’s not all positive. We’ve lost some traction in places, as well. More negatively, we’ve lost a certain air of experimentation and hobbyist hacking, due likely to the fact that — at some point in time over these last 16 years — every foray into tech was quickly pushed to become “a real business” even though few modern-day tech pursuits ever are. Speaking of real businesses, it had become increasingly difficult for startups to compete for talent during the pandemic, when dollars were flowing and everyone was a remote employee.

To be fair, why would anyone work for a Portland startup when they could earn upper tier wages and benefits working from home?

And then there’s that question. What even is a Portland startup, these days? The entire definition of companies has changed over the last three years. And what even is a tech company now that every company everywhere has a significant amount of tech powering their business?

So yeah. It’s been weird.

Which led me to ponder… if I were to start this blog today, where would I find myself focusing? I think it’s safe to say that it probably wouldn’t be wholly focused on tech, startups or otherwise. I’m thinking that I would be likely to cast a wider net. In addition to tech pursuits, I’d probably be looking at traded sector consumer products, as well. And looking for experimentation with both technical and physical products. And using my writing to provide that vote of confidence for a much wider swath of founders in our community.

And to find ways to help break down those silos that seem to divide the intensely creative and driven entrepreneurs in our community — simply because they happen to be working on slightly different solutions to slightly different problems. Founders who — when you step back and squint just right — are all working on products and scale and operations in very much the same way.

And so that pondering has led me to think about expanding the scope of Silicon Florist. And cross-pollinating. And bridging. And connecting. Because there are so many ridiculously awesome dots in our community that still need — and deserve — to be connected.

That’s where I’m thinking this should go, this year. Product-based startups. Whether those projects are digital, physical, or some combination thereof. Because that’s where I see the momentum. And those are the businesses that are most interesting to me. And, perhaps most of all, because Portland always seems to build some really really interesting products — as do founders throughout Oregon — regardless of the form those products take.

Sixteen can often be a transitional year. So maybe that’s where this more mature Silicon Florist will go.

Oh yeah. During this year, I took a sabbatical. I shut down the original PIE accelerator. And I started a new side project. (You know I always need a couple of cockamamie schemes I’m working on.) So there’s that.

And no Silicon Florist, you cannot borrow my keys. We’ve got work to do.

Previous Silicon Florist birthday posts

Birthdays make you nostalgic? Me too! So if you feel like wallowing in that nostalgia with me, please have at it. Here are a bunch of old birthday posts from yesteryear.