Category: Startups

The Startup’s Journey

[Editor: Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the pleasure of getting into a number of fairly deep conversations with the Portland-based Back Fence PDX crew, Frayn Masters and Melissa Lion, about the power of story. You see, that’s what they do. They help people understand and formalize their stories.

I mean, technology is great and all, but the stories of the entrepreneurs in this town—the folklore—is what really brings these technology stories to life. But I could never really effectively capture that concept.

So why not let a real writer—an author—step in? Enter Melissa and Frayn—two real authors.

Melissa was kind enough to swing by Silicon Florist to write a guest post about the power of story in the world of startups.

Do you like what she says? Disagree? Why not take the opportunity to have that discussion with her, in person, at Beer and Blog tonight, where Melissa will be the guest speaker. And the beer is free. That’s right. Thanks to TeachStreet. Win, win, and, um, win.

Now, on with our story…]

The Startup’s Journey

by Back Fence PDX

Storytelling is appealing at its core because it’s gossip—that delicious thrill of knowing a person’s hidden life a little bit better. The details of the person’s story stick in the listener’s mind to be retold to others due to the history and flawed point of view of the teller. And, like a game of telephone, as it gets passed on, the little details change making the story more and more enticing, adding to the lore.

Business plans, white papers and websites all tell a hygienic story—none have a distinguishing voice—they are the musings of robots. None share the shiver of a whisper in your ear, or the eyes-wide-with-anticipation surprise of what comes next. That gossip, that raw story, is the reason blogs and social networking sites bloom. They are a break from the bullet points and style guides. Voiceless PowerPoint presentations don’t make for juicy party chatter.

People crave a voice. People desire a story.

The Startup’s Story

There is the official story of the company. And then there is the lore. It’s the legend, the myth, what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey. Campbell identifies the elements of the Hero’s Journey as the separation, the initiation and the return.

The separation is the moment the founder decided to do something different. Why the change? What was that moment? Was he or she on a bike ride? At dinner with a friend? Suddenly woken in the night? What did it feel like when the idea appeared?

The company is initiated through its initial mistakes, trials, additions and edits. It is the discovery of what works.

The return occurs when past life is melded with the present. When the business is at once, something totally new and yet blended with the past, with lessons learned and warnings heeded or ignored. It is the after shot of the makeover story—the person is still the same, but they are improved through the trials of the initiation.

Narrative Arc

Though storytelling is a natural element of humanity and the original social networking tool, an engaging and repeatable narrative is difficult to capture. The tools of the story from plot to character to voice can be unwieldy. The craft of narrative is one learned through years of trial and error. Skilled use of the craft is what separates lore from idle chat.

Professional storytellers have a trained ear for the details of the arc; they understand that it is not about perfection, but about flaws, the real humanity of the journey. They brush aside the static of the story, the starts and stops and craft a tale that is simple, compelling and easily retold so the lore is passed like so many legends through the community.

A story crafted by professional storytellers is the beginning of the buzz. There is a twist of the unexpected, or the make-over that engages the reader or listener. It’s the whisper that starts the cacophony.

It gives even the newest companies a past, a humanity that can never be felt through white pages. It is the history that all humans relate to. A well-told lore adds value to all companies, and invites a personal connection with those who hear the tale.

By creating a lore, a start-up invites others to become characters in the tale. The Venture Capitalist wants a role, they want to be character in the story. The Angel wants to be a hero. The lore provides a structure for people to better see their potential role in the start-up.

What’s your story? What’s the gossip passed around the community? What is the lore that is yet untold?

Back Fence PDX is a storytelling series in Portland. Co-producers Frayn Masters and Melissa Lion are professional storytellers, crafting the lore of Portland companies.

Melissa Lion of Back Fence PDX will be presenting at Beer and Blog, this evening. To RSVP, visit Beer and Blog on Upcoming.

Ten things to think about before pursuing funding for your startup

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend “Lunch with a VC” hosted by Carolynn Duncan of FundingUniverse and Epic Ventures. Carolynn took the time to field questions from a number of Portland startups and consultants on what it really takes to get a venture capitalist interested in investing in your company.

(If you’re interested in all the gory details about wooing a VC, Carolynn has a great post called “Checklists: What kind of funding are you eligible for?“)

I thought I’d hit the high points, to help you get your head around what it’s going to take.

Think about these 10 things before you think about pursuing outside funding for your startup

  1. Have you really solved a problem? Just because you see a problem doesn’t mean you’re the person to solve the problem. It’s far easier to criticize existing solutions than it is to invent your own solution. And even if you do invent a solution to that problem, there’s no guarantee that that’s a business.
  2. Are you mentally prepared? Pursuing VC funding isn’t about self esteem. It’s about business. If you want someone to review what you’re doing and give you positive feedback, Silicon Florist may be a better candidate than a VC. A VC isn’t here to build you up or inflate your ego. A VC is here to figure out how you’re going to make money so that the investment firm can make money.
  3. Are you ready for the oversight? Angels invest their own money. VCs invest other people’s money. As such, they’re going to have different types of involvement. And different kinds of goals. What kind of involvement and what kind of goals? Read on, gentle reader. Read on.
  4. Can you deliver on the promise? Angels look for incremental gains. VCs look for exponential gain. But, rest assured, when it comes to investing, everyone’s goal is to make money. Angels are looking to invest time and money to get more money than they had. VCs are looking to invest far larger sums to make an exponential amount on their investment. Why? To make up the for the other crappy companies they picked that are failing to return anything.
  5. Can you give up control? Angels are going to want more control because it’s their money. Why? Well, VCs invest other people’s money. Angels invest their own money. While both of those parties are going to be extremely interested in what you’re doing with their money, it’s highly likely that the Angel is going to be more involved—because Angels will be especially interested in keeping an eye on their personal money.
  6. Can you tell the story of the money? The old adage hold true: It takes money to get money. As a rule, VCs don’t fund ideas. They generally fund things that are already making money. For VCs, an investment is an accelerator. They invest money in order to help the company make more money faster. Not making money yet? A VC might not be the right target.
  7. Are you ready to make the VC pitch? To an investor, the “product” the investor is buying is the business. Not the actual product that the company sells. If you’re thinking of pitching a VC, don’t do the usual “show up and throw up” product demo of features and functionality. Give the potential investor a pitch on your business, moreso than that the product, itself.
  8. Are you planning ahead or are you too late? Always pursue funding before you get desperate. Why? Well, two reasons. First, no one likes the stench of desperation. And second, it takes 3-6 months to do the due diligence on the deal before you can get stuff going. Don’t wait until it’s too late to begin the conversation. Better yet, begin the conversation before you need anything, at all. Work on your pitch and test drive it.
  9. Are you ready to play the numbers game? How much of the final entity do you want to own? Take this into consideration… do you want to own 100% of a $1 million company, or do you want to own 51% of a $500 million company? If additional investment is going to make for an exponentially larger pie, then it might be wise to take a cut of the bigger pie, rather than try to horde the smaller pie. Angels and VC are interested in helping you build that bigger pie, so that everyone wins.
  10. Are you foregoing a “great” funded company in favor of a “good” company that you control? A dead company doesn’t help anyone. The longer you can reasonably put off funding, the better off you will be. But don’t kill your company to retain control (see #9). If garnering additional funding ensures the fulfillment of your idea—even at a loss of control—funding may be the way to go. Bootstrap what you can, but not if it means the loss of your pursuits.

And that’s what I took away. But as always, that’s the high-level. For the deep dive, see Carolynn’s post.

Hopefully this overview helps. Interested in getting more feedback or answering different questions? Carolynn is planning to do this on a regular basis, here in Portland.

It would be great to have you at one of the future events.

Portland Start-up Index for July 2008: Clicky and Vidoop debut in top 20

Hard to believe, but it’s already time for another Portland Start-up Index from Techvibes.

For July, three new Portland startups have joined the listing, which is based on Alexa and Compete rankings. Clicky debuted at 6, Vidoop at 15, and GreenRenter at 46.

The top five slots remained static, but there was a great deal of movement further down the list. Kryptiq was the highest riser, moving up three slots to 37. Others slid substantially. GoSeeTell dropped 10 slots to 49, (my own) Kumquat dropped nine to 52, and IDP Solutions down eight to the last spot on the list.

Enough analysis. Here’s the list:

  1. AboutUs
  2. Kongregate
  3. Discogs
  4. COLOURlovers
  5. Frappr
  6. Clicky
  7. Jive Software
  8. Splashcast
  9. MyOpenID
  10. Earth Class Mail
  11. Sandy
  12. Platial
  13. Gone Raw
  14. eROI
  15. Vidoop
  16. NetworthIQ
  17. Stikkit
  18. GadgetTrak
  19. Active Reload
  20. Walker Tracker
  21. Grabbit
  22. Attensa
  23. Iovation
  24. Iterasi
  25. Art Face Off
  26. UrbanDrinks
  27. Pibb
  28. ChoiceA
  29. KnitMap
  30. Lunarr
  31. FreeRange
  32. Goboz
  33. Rocketbook
  34. WeoGeo
  35. Jama Software
  36. fmyi
  37. Kryptiq
  38. GoLife Mobile
  39. Picktastic
  40. MomHub
  41. Imindi
  42. VocalNation.net
  43. Cendix
  44. Pheedo
  45. Workplace2go
  46. GreenRenter
  47. Box Populi
  48. Collaborative Software Initiative
  49. GoSeeTell
  50. Avnera
  51. Lightfleet
  52. Kumquat
  53. YourList
  54. Techchex
  55. Worldwide Nest
  56. IDP Solutions

For more on the movement of these sites, including the Alexa and Compete rankings that determine position, see the Techvibes Portland Start-up Index for July 2008.

Portland Web 2.0 startups get some love from Oregon Business Magazine

Oregon Business Magazine features Toonlet et alOne of the reasons I started Silicon Florist was to use my marketing powers for good, by casting the spotlight on “Portland Web 2.0 startups” and individuals who have been developing really, really cool things here in the Silicon Forest. But who, through sheer lack of time, may not have the opportunity or wherewithal to promote themselves as much as they would like.

I’m happy to report that a number of those companies just got a much brighter spotlight shone on them, thanks to Oregon Business Magazine‘s cover story this month “10 Coolest Tech Startups You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Among the Silicon Florist alumni featured are:

Gone Raw and Lumeno.us—two sites I haven’t yet had the chance to cover except via mentions in the Portland Startup Index—made it as well.

Congratulations to all of those featured for stepping on to a much larger stage! I’ll look forward to continuing to cover your progress and highlighting your wins.

Photo credit: Michael G. Halle

Portland Startup Weekend now being held at Vidoop offices

Heads up! There has been a last second location change for Portland Startup Weekend. The event will now be held at the Vidoop offices in Old Town. The event begins tonight, May 23, at 6:00 PM.

On a side note, I’m not sure if a Twitter hashtag has been proposed (or if Twitter will even be functional), but I thought I would propose one for those folks watching from the sidelines. How about #pdxsw?

[Editor’s note: As much as I’d love to be in attendance, I’ve been sidelined by illness. That said, I will definitely try to swing by during the weekend. Best of luck to the participants.]

OregonLive Reddit now based on latest not greatest

OregonLive Reddit is completely borkedSince I had written an earlier editorial on OregonLive Reddit about its wealth of potential, I thought it appropriate to post that—until further notice—that potential is now completely gone.

Why? Because now OregonLive Reddit stories make the front page of the OregonLive not as a result of their popularity or user voting, but as a result of the order in which the OregonLive Reddit articles were submitted.

That’s right.

It’s important to note that the OregonLive home page now features the most recent submissions, and not the hottest posts.

And here’s my favorite part…

This change took place about one week ago in order to keep the Reddit posts fresh on the home page.

Perhaps the folks at The Oregonian and OregonLive are even more Web 2.0 than I thought, given that the new system follows the logic that “shiny and new” far outweighs “relevant and interesting.”

So go ahead and vote the Silicon Florist submissions up or down. It doesn’t really matter.

-1 for social media

At a time when the OregonLive Reddit user base was in the midst of asking good questions and having deep discussions about the nature of the service—at a time when many were working to embrace the potential of this feature—the team at OregonLive chose to remove the one and only thing that made the feature worth using: the voting that allowed the populous to determine what appeared on the front page.

Currently, the social feature has absolutely no bearing on what appears on the front page. It’s all chronological.

Kind of like, oh I don’t know, a printed newspaper?

I hear you, “Sounds like sour grapes to me, Turoczy. You’re just mad that you can’t keep content on the front page.”

You’re right. You’re absolutely right.

But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

As I mentioned in my earlier editorial, I felt this service was one of the more promising avenues to give startups in town some of the much needed limelight they deserved from traditional media. And I find it unfortunate that that avenue—an avenue that I thought had so much potential—has taken a hit.

Here’s hoping they reconsider this move.

Until that point, I’ll continue my search for other resources that truly have the potential to highlight the great work many of you are doing here in the Silicon Forest.

Because the people around here need to see the amazing things you’re doing.

Just not on OregonLive, I guess.

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.

Now on tap: Portland Startup Drinks

Portland Startup Drinks: Not that they are going to be drinking beer out of a can mind youJust saw that Portland has launched its own chapter of Startup Drinks.

What’s Startup Drinks, you ask? Well, it’s another startup idea from the same folks who brought us—or more accurately will be bringing usStartup Weekend.

A simple concept: startup culture in cities around the world gathers around a bar to have a pint and discuss what they are working on, what they need help with and what they can do for each other.

Pints and startups? I, honestly, can’t think of anything more Portland than that. Well, okay, maybe Beer and Blog.

Here’s hoping that Portland Startup Drinks will add their get-togethers to Upcoming so we can track them in the Silicon Florist Upcoming group.

Looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Portland Start-up Index for April 2008: COLOURlovers debuts at #4

I’m happy to report that, once again, it’s time to take a look at my favorite apples-to-oranges comparison of the Portland startup scene, the Techvibes Portland Start-up Index. For me, it’s like having birthday every single month.

The biggest surprise this month? Two-time Webby nominee COLOURlovers has debuted on the Portland Start-up Index at #4, cracking open an otherwise static Top 5. The only other new addition is the Collaborative Software Initiative at #46.

Second biggest surprise? Pheedo jumped up 25 slots. Now that’s a “mover.”

But what’s happening with the other folks? Who’s moving up? Who’s moving down? Where do we stand?

Well, let’s take a look.

  1. AboutUs
  2. Discogs
  3. Kongregate
  4. COLOURlovers
  5. MyOpenID
  6. Earth Class Mail
  7. Splashcast
  8. Jive Software
  9. Sandy
  10. Pheedo
  11. Gone Raw
  12. eROI
  13. NetworthIQ
  14. Stikkit
  15. GadgetTrak
  16. Walker Tracker
  17. Attensa
  18. ChoiceA
  19. Art Face Off
  20. Active Reload
  21. Grabbit
  22. Pibb
  23. iovation
  24. UrbanDrinks
  25. Lunarr
  26. Rocketbook
  27. Iterasi
  28. WeoGeo
  29. FreeRange
  30. KnitMap
  31. GoLife Mobile
  32. fmyi
  33. Imindi
  34. Goboz
  35. VocalNation
  36. MomHub
  37. GoSeeTell
  38. Workplace2go
  39. Picktastic
  40. Jama Software
  41. Avnera
  42. Kryptiq
  43. Cendix
  44. Lightfleet
  45. Box Populi
  46. Collaborative Software Initiative
  47. Worldwide Nest
  48. Techchex
  49. Kumquat
  50. IDP Solutions
  51. YourList

For a details on the movement of each startup-list entity or to get more details on how the rankings are tabulated, visit the Techvibes Portland Start-up Index.

Oregon technology startups and education: Being part of the solution

A few weeks back, I wrote a rant about the abysmal state of Oregon’s tech education in which I encouraged anyone in tech—but especially those folks at startups—to consider his/her potential role in helping to resolve the issues currently plaguing our educational system.

Talk, as they say, is cheap.

So how can we act?

Well, admittedly, this is an awfully big problem, but to wax—and perhaps unintentionally slaughter—more platitudes, the journey of 1000 miles begins with one step.

And, I’m proud to say that we, as a burgeoning collective, have already taken two:

  1. Oregon Tech & Education is an online discussion group designed to gather interested parties, encourage discussion, and facilitate action. If you are at all interested in helping, participating, or just watching what’s happening. I encourage you to join. Even if you just lurk. And I encourage you to invite the teachers and administrators in your life to join, as well.
  2. Silicon Florist internship/mentorship challenge is a call to all Silicon-Forest-based startups to consider offering a summer internship for high school or college students in your area. No one knows more about what you do than you. And teaching someone who knows nothing about what you do could be one of the most rewarding things you ever accomplish as an entrepreneur. If you’re interested—not even yet to the “willing to participate” phase, just interested—please throw your hat into the ring as one of the participating startups.

From time to time, I’ll keep you posted on these steps, and other steps that the resourceful folks of the Silicon Forest are taking to resolve this issue.

I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish.

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