Category: Guest

Mike Berkley on ‘Preparing for the Next Web Boom’

[HTML2][Editor: The following is a guest post by Mike Berkley, who served as the CEO of Portland-based SplashCast until its recent demise. Mike and I have had any number of conversations about the startup scene here in town. And I asked him if we wouldn’t mind putting his thoughts into a post. The first post—of hopefully many—follows.]

Preparing for the Next Web Boom

Since putting SplashCast to rest a few months ago, I’ve finally had time to reconnect with the entrepreneur community here in Portland, as well as in the Bay Area and NYC.  I’ve packed my days full of coffee, apricot scones, phone calls, and meetings… lots of meetings.  I’ve talked to dozens of entrepreneurs and investors.

Two themes have surfaced in this process. Read More

Health Information Technology: Why is it important to Portland?

I have long taken an outward-looking view and advocated that Portland could become a hub for health IT at the intersection of industry, academia, and its health care systems.

[Editor: Health Information Technology has always had a interesting spot in the Portland startup scene. And I say that, most likely, because I’ve been part of it from time to time. But I’m probably not the best person to write about it. Enter Bill Hersh, MD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE) in the School of Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon. Here’s his perspective on HIT, its role, and its potential for the Portland tech scene.]

I appreciate the opportunity to contribute a piece to this blog about a topic of great interest to myself and many others, which is health information technology, also called health IT or HIT. Read More

The Portland Internet Effect

[Editor: Nino Marchetti, a local freelance technology writer, recently put together an article about the local Web community. And while it’s a little strange to see myself quoted in an article on my own blog, I was happy to oblige. Thanks to Nino for offering up this story.]

The Portland Internet Effect
By Nino Marchetti

What makes Portland such a hub of potential for Internet companies? Is there something in the water? Do factors like a well-established creative class, support for open source, and a lower cost of living make this a place for Web outfits to call home?

I recently set out to find answers to some of those questions. I spoke with local Web company owners, analysts, and investors. The answers vary but one thing is clear—Portland is making plenty of waves sandwiched between the tech power houses of Seattle and the Silicon Valley.

In the realm of Portland Web companies, Jive Software could arguably be considered one of the more established enterprises. Jive, which focuses on “online collaboration tools that make it easier for people to work together,” came to the local market via New York City. CEO David Hersh feels the area offers his company the right mix of things to make it easy to call this home.

“Portland has the best mix of lifestyle, business clients, and software cluster,” said Hersh. “It is less expensive and easier for us to grow a company here then in the Bay Area or Seattle.”

Hersh added Jive feels there is a good local software programmer group to draw from, but that the downside is there aren’t as many talented bodies as one might hope for—deeper pools of potential programmers exist in other markets. The local talent that is available, however, is potentially quite entrepreneurial—there is a group of Jive employees who might at some point strike out and start their own operations.

“There are plenty of opportunities,” said Hersh. “Anybody with a big vision can make it happen here.”

A smaller Web-based operation which has been trying to make it happen here is SplashCast. This company offers what vice president of business development Tom Turnbull calls a “rich media advertising and syndication platform” for media companies and brands like Sony to connect with consumers in popular social networks such as Facebook.

Turnbull, like Hersh, sees positives and negatives to Portland as a Web company cluster location. On the positive, the company loves the area for things like creativity, a growing Internet community, and less expensive house prices. He has never thought about relocating anywhere else. On the downside though, many of its clients are elsewhere.

“We pay a soft price for being in Portland,” said Turnbull. “The media companies that we partner with are not located in here. Most of the ad agencies are located in the bigger markets. Therefore, we are familiar with Jet Blue’s red eye to New York and make trips to California on a regular basis.”

Even very small Web companies are finding some success and challenges in the Portland area. One of these is Values on n. This outfit, founded in March 2006, has had some success in developing Web services which focus on “personal and small group productivity with a particular emphasis on harnessing everyone’s de-facto productivity tool: email.” This is according to company founder Rael Dornfest, who reflected on some local start up thoughts.

“By being even such a short distance from the Silicon Valley,” said Dornfest, “Portland start-ups are buffered to a certain degree from the ‘startup scene’ and so tend to spend more time thinking about building community and customer base—and, at least within the group of start-ups we know, those are viewed as fairly synonymous. There’s just something about the Portland startup gestalt that’s different—in much the same way as Portland itself feels different somehow to those who visit (and almost invariably want to stay).”

In looking at what seems to make Portland tick for Web companies, tech consultant Marshall Kirkpatrick has made some interesting observations. Kirkpatrick, who said he consults “on everything from product road mapping to site usability to social media marketing ,” has made a name for himself in the online world, writing for tech industry blogs like TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb.

“I think there’s an unusual feeling of camaraderie among startups here,” said Kirkpatrick when asked to compare Portland to other tech hotspots like San Francisco and Seattle. “It’s less nasty than San Francisco and less obscured in the shadow of a monolith than Seattle.”

Kirkpatrick highlighted that a lot of local programmers are involved in “pseudo-geekish” technologies like RSS and wikis, as well as there being a strong community of open source developers. This all adds up to a lot of “self-made Web application power users here.”

You can, of course, have local Web outfits, consultants, and others promoting the values of Portland as a tech spot on the radar, but without venture capital funding many projects remain in the garage. Portland, until late, has definitely flown under the radar in this area and one could say it still has some growing to do.

“In terms of fund raising,” said SplashCast’s Turnbull, “Portland has a bit of a bad reputation in the startup community. There are certainly fewer VCs here. That being said, we are having great success in the Portland angel investment community and are very optimistic about our future VC prospects.”

Kirkpatrick echoed Turnbull in the VC perception of Portland, saying “venture capitalists are sometimes hesitant to invest in startups based in Portland, because of the perception that this is a place you move to enjoy the quality of life—not to ruin your life giving everything you’ve got to a startup.”

Not all VCs are hesitant though about Portland Web company investment opportunities. Erik Benson, managing director of Voyager Capital, sees local outfits as offering great potential products for end users, though he also feels they “could stand to aim for a bigger scale.”

“We are enthusiastic about the level of passion and creativity that’s coming out of the Portland Web scene, particularly around Open Source and social Web technology,” said Benson. “JanRain, the leader of the OpenID movement, and Values of n, a social-Web-enabled personal assistant, are examples that highlight those areas.”

Other early investment stage firms also see Portland as potential funding grounds. One of these is Mount Hood Equity Partners, managed by Bob Wiggins.

“There are a number of companies in the Portland area I’ve looked at that I would consider quite interesting,” said Wiggins. “There’s a good pool of talent both on the engineering side and, to an extent, on the executive side as well.”

Wiggins has observed a lot of local Web companies focused on using the Internet as a tool for taking care of some kind of problem. This can range from online collaboration like Jive does to managing multiple fast food locations as a franchisee.

Also observing the Portland Web scene are analysts like Raven Zachary of The 451 Group and bloggers such as Rick Turoczy of Silicon Florist. It is observers like these which can fan or quench the flames of potential hot companies with their comments.

“With this many highly-independent, intelligent people in Portland,” said Zachary, “you’re going to see a lot of startup activity here… Portland is becoming a destination for the California tech scene as they grow up and want to settle down and have a family while continuing to pursue tech.”

He also noted, realistically, Portland is not the “center of the tech universe.”

“That won’t change,” said Zachary.

Turoczy, for his part, maintains feverish coverage of local Web companies as information is passed along to him. This perhaps gives him one of the most insider views of all on what works locally and what doesn’t.

“I think the Silicon Forest—if we define the Forest as stretching from the coast over to Bend and quite a ways down south and up past Vancouver—has the potential to be a hot bed for Web startups,” said Turoczy. “I don’t think we have really realized its true potential, yet. We’ve taken steps. And I think we have a good start.”

Portland and Boise startups: A lot more in common than I-84

Editor: I grew up near a town that was the big city for a fairly rural state. It was the home to many traditional high-tech companies. It had great skiing nearby. And it had a river running right through the middle of it.

Thing is, it wasn’t Portland. It was Boise, Idaho.

And, I had a strange feeling that those aren’t the only similarities between our two towns.

So, when Chris Blanchard offered to write a guest column on the state of the Boise tech environment, a bit of my former Idahoan homesickness came into play. And I jumped at the chance.

The biggest surprise for me? How closely connected the two communities are. And how they, in Boise, are struggling with some of the exact same issues we, here in the Silicon Forest, find ourselves struggling.

Boise, ID: Not ready for prime time? Don’t tell us that.

I feel like the Apostle Paul writing a letter…

Greetings to you Silicon Florists, Portvangelists, Portvangelistas, members of the Twitterverse and others of the technology startup brother/sisterhood from your Brother here in Boise, ID.

Anyway, our friend Rick was kind enough to let me guest post from over here in the Silicon Sandbox, Boise, Idaho.

Why? I’m getting to that.

Last year me and a few friends started a company called Pronetos, the first social network for scholars.

The idea is to give scholars a place to network and collaborate, and ultimately give them a platform to publish their work. We’re still testing the publication tools—a combination of open source software and print-on-demand components—but they are pretty slick and pretty cutting edge, especially when you’re from Boise and resources are limited.

Thanks for your help, Portland

We spent a lot of time last year in Portland, and have a lot of props to dish out to the PDX community for helping us with technology, marketing, business planning, etc. We couldn’t have come this far without you, PDX!

  • Brian Jamison and the guys at OpenSourcery built the Pronetos site in rapid fashion.
  • Nate Angell (raised by wolves; cloned daughters) led us through the academic community over there (and to a great restaurant in McMinnville)
  • Mark Gregory at pdx.edu was a great help in our development (and encouraged us to move to PDX)
  • We met with the entire crew at Engine Works—very sophisticated and smart guys
  • Scott Kveton has helped us with contacts, business advice, and bacon addiction
  • @wendemm, @Turoczy, and the guys at Box Populi have been good friends to us as well

So thanks PDXers for helping grow Boise’s start-ups in addition to your own.

The state of technology in Boise

Boise is doing OK as a region. You might have seen that Forbes named us the 7th most promising new tech region or something or other. We get lots of awards like that.

Quality of life is GREAT! Still, the tech community is young. There are very few contract developers here. There are lots of software gigs open here all the time. Boise State graduates about 25 CS engineers every year and 100% have jobs when they graduate. Still, we do have a MySQL office here!

As far as financing goes, a couple months ago at a Kickstand meeting (this is the local tech start-up group) we heard from an angel investor that the local angel group had reviewed 100 business plans in the span of 90 days or so, and funded exactly zero.

We’ve got only one VC here in town and they don’t fund seed deals (and not often true early stage deals). So we have an angel group that wants to fund companies with 3 years of operating history and a VC that wants to fund mezzanine deals (oh, I can hear them racing to the comment link below).

So, if you’re interested, here are some cool things about Boise that may heighten its appeal—and your perception of our town:

  • If you are developer—Boise could be a place you want to pay attention to (especially if you are an open source guy—we have lots of MS devs here). We had exactly one Ruby dev in this town as of very recently, and all the PHP guys are employed by the man (not too many solo operators or small shops).
  • If you are a VC or angel that is looking for early stage deals—those are here too—in spades.
  • If you are a guy (or gal) that understands anything about long tail b-plans, web 2.0, user generated content, new media—and you’ve had a successful company in those areas—we (Boise) could use your help too. Just last night it was interesting to note that a group of cowboys got stares in downtown Boise (boy times they are a changin’), but we still don’t have a good base of people who have been successful in this new landscape. We do have a fair amount of successful folks from the widget economy and a few good software entrepreneurs. But we can use more.

We’ve got a good night life scene, beer and blog group, the Tech Boise Blog, 180 Twitterers, and we ran a great Code Camp a couple weeks ago. We’ve also got good institutional support from places like Idaho TechConnect, and the Boise State TECenter.

So it’s coming together—but is Boise “not ready for prime time?” Well don’t tell us that, but I’m still glad for all of you over there in PDX that act as out adjunct tech community.

If you want to keep up on what’s going on over here (like we do with PDX) find me on Twitter—@LGM1—and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Peace to you, PDX. Now a letter to our friends in Corinth.

Guest Editorial: Scott Kveton

[Editor’s note: Continuing the Silicon Florist’s guest editorial series, we welcome Scott Kveton, a well-known force-of-nature in the Portland technology community. And, as you’ll see, the de facto Chamber of Commerce for the Portland startup scene.]
Made in Oregon

Image courtesy Modified Enzyme under Creative Commons

Falling in love with Portland again and again

Last week was amazing. I spent most of it with Luke Sontag here in Portland, meeting with folks, spreading the good word about Vidoop and generally being in the city.

Having grown up in-and-around Portland, it’s always fun to see the reaction to everything-that-is-Portland from someone who doesn’t live here. (Oh, and the weather we had last week didn’t hurt either.)

I got a chance to talk a little bit about this at Ignite Portland 2, but I’ll say it again: This is the beginning of a fantastic renaissance period for Portland. It’s such a vibrant, eclectic, talented and diverse city with so many things going on, that it inspires the mind and spirit around every corner you turn. Even more, I think Chris Logan had it right: it’s time for Portland to step up and take its place.

There has been some talk about how “if you don’t live in the Bay Area and you’re in tech, you’re basically a wuss.”

So be it. The very last thing I want is for Portland to turn into the Bay Area or Seattle. I want it to be Portland. I want other cities to be saying “wouldn’t it be great if we were more like Portland?” I simply want Portland to come into its own in tech, in the arts, sustainability, green, etc.

But, how do we get to that point?

Well, it takes a bunch of us, it takes some time and, ironically, the city does most of the work for you.

For the past couple of years, I’ve made it a point to try to help people who are considering a move to Portland. I’ve spent countless days taking people around the city, introducing them to others in the city, and generally trying to give them a “locals’ view” of the city.

Now, the tour I take folks on covers a bit of ground and I’m seeking some input on the route. A couple of places I go to:

  • Tour of SW waterfront area with gondola love
  • Sellwood district (possibly for lunch, definitely for dinner at Saburo’s if it’s a weekday night)
  • SE towards 78th or so … Marshall has been kind enough to meet me more than once at the Bipartisan Cafe… soooo PDX
  • Alberta or Killingsworth… I used to live at Billy Reed’s at the turn of the century and I can’t believe how much it’s all changed since then
  • Pearl District for coffee (Caffe Umbria is amazing) or drinks (the Vault or even the Clyde Commons)
  • NW on 21st or 23rd… just too much to do, to eat, to see

Where would you take a touring visitor to get a taste of Portland from a local’s point-of-view? Bear in mind, I’m not looking for just a tech-person view on this. I’m all about diversity here.

The key to all of this, and the thing that I keep in mind at all times, is serendipity. Yeah, yeah, I know. Hard to quantify, huh? Well, I’m not the cheerleader type unless I really, really believe in it. Portland I can believe in. This city, the people, the places. It’s easy.

If you’re not predisposed to drink the PDX Kool-aid, then you’re probably not the type of person I’d want here anyway. And, if you’ve ended up in my Inbox or with my phone number, odds are, there’s a reason.

I’ll put this out there; if you have a friend or colleague that is thinking about making the move to Portland I’ll offer up my time for coffee or even the full-fledged tour to introduce them to the city and the people I know. It’s just the right thing to do. And, I’d challenge you to do the same.

Again, it’s not about trying to make Portland something it’s not… it’s about embracing serendipity and helping Portland realize its potential.

P.S. – first round is always on me … 🙂

Scott Kveton is a digital identity promoter, open source advocate, and Chairman of the OpenID Foundation. He has worked at Amazon, RuleSpace.com, JanRain, and MyStrands, and founded the Open Source Lab at Oregon State University. He is a regular speaker on the topic of identity and open source. Kveton currently serves as the Vice President of Open Platforms for Vidoop, a company he recently wooed to the Silicon Forest.

Guest editorial: Is Portland behind when it comes to mobile?

[Editor’s Note: In a brief flash of humility, I came to the realization that there were any number of experts here at our disposal in the Silicon Forest. Experts who have important things to say. Experts who can help us place the Rose City and the Silicon Forest within the context of a larger picture. Experts who are—quite frankly—more interesting than just little ol’ me.

And with that, I decided that some other viewpoints would be valuable. So welcome to a new feature on Silicon Florist: guest editorials.

First up, please welcome Jason Grigsby of Portland-based Cloud Four.

Knowing full well that one of Jason’s areas of expertise was mobile, I asked him “What’s up with mobile? And how is it going to play in Portland?” And he has graciously replied.

If you find his take interesting (and I know you will) make sure to peruse the mobile series he’s writing for his company’s blog. Or, you might seriously consider attending his presentation at Portland Web Innovators on Wednesday, February 13.

Ack. Looks like my intro is rivaling the length of the content. So, with that, I’ll hand you off to the honorable Mr. Grigsby. Grigs?]

Is Portland behind when it comes to mobile?

People keep asking me whether Portland is behind when it comes to mobile?

I would have never thought to ask this question. If we were behind, what would we do with this information?

Better yet, who would we be behind? San Francisco? Austin? Poughkeepsie?

We might be behind Chicago if Katherine Gray’s out-of-town guests are correct. She wrote to me on Twitter to tell me that her friends wondered why they hadn’t seen many Blackberries in Portland.

Apparently, we specialize in the kind of blackberries that grow on the side of roads and not the ones you carry in your pocket. (Actually, this isn’t true. Oregon’s largest employer, Intel, provides Blackberries as standard issue, and I’ve seen many other business people with them as well.)

If we are behind, what would be the proper measure? The percentage of mobile phone users per capita? The number of smart phone users?

Perhaps these metrics would tell the story. Unfortunately, city-specific data isn’t available.

In the absence of data, I have to fall back to my original, knee-jerk reaction: Of course Portland is behind. The whole country is behind.

In Europe and Asia, both consumers and businesses are more savvy when it comes to utilizing their phones.

  • In Japan, South Korea and China, more people access the web via mobile phones than via PCs.
  • Finland-based Nokia claims 40% of the worldwide market for phones—by far the leading phone manufacturer.

Portland is no more behind than the rest of America. This is one technology surge that we’re late to the game on. And with 3.3 billion mobile devices and growing, it represents the most widespread technology in the world—far surpassing PC, credit cards, and televisions.

Fortunately, there’s still time to catch up before things really take off. Things are lining up for 2008 and 2009 to be big years for mobile. Portland has the perfect combination of technical and creative communities to explore what is possible in this new medium.

I’m excited to see what Portland produces for the Mobile Web.

Jason Grigsby is a founder, Vice President, and Web Strategist at Cloud Four, a Portland-based Web consulting firm focused on Web, Mobile and emerging technology. For more information on Grigsby and Cloud Four, visit Cloud Four. To RSVP for his Portland Web Innovators talk, visit Upcoming.

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