Category: Startups

What I learned at summer camp SXSW, Portland edition

SXSW InteractiveI’ve spent the last few days in Austin, TX, at SXSW Interactive, the annual gathering of some of the best and brightest Web types sharing their experience and ideas.

But it’s not all about the presentations. Truly, it’s all about proximity. Because every presenter, every leading thinker, and every attendee have plenty of time to talk with one another over meals or over a beer.

Suffice it to say, if you’re looking to get the chance to chat with the folks who are influencing the Web, this is a target rich environment.

This year, I went to SXSW with the intention of learning more about other entrepreneurial communities. To uncover ways that other metropolitan areas were trying to make their communities stronger in order to capitalize on the talent of creative developers.

I managed to make some great connections and learn a thing or two. Here’s what I took away from the conversations.

Portland is not a special snowflake

It’s no secret that I think we’ve got a phenomenal Web, mobile, and open source community. I think the mix we’ve got is special. And there’s little doubt that I think we have the single most amazing technology community anywhere.

But I also admit that I may be a little biased.

Still, for all the love I have for Portland, we’re not unique in our struggles to foster an entrepreneurial community that helps the brilliant people of the Silicon Forest earn a living doing something that they love.

There are communities all over the US trying to make this work. Some of them are taking steps similar to Portland. Some of them are coming up with new ways to deal with the solution. Folks from Asheville, NC, are finding ways to fund projects with government dollars. Boulder is running a series of Ignites that are continuing to draw the community together time and time again. People in Houston and Kansas City are using coworking spaces to get members of the community working together and sharing ideas. DC is using things like Tech Cocktail to help facilitate connections—and the tech scene is getting the opportunity to advise the local government on issues. And the guys at Silicon Prairie News are pulling in some amazing speakers for Big Omaha, an event that will help solidify their entrepreneurial community.

I’m hoping to spend more time with these folks over the coming months, visiting their communities, learning more about what they’re doing, and sharing more about what Portland is doing.

It looks like the trip to Seattle Lunch 2.0 was just the first of many diplomatic missions.

Funding for Portland projects must come from investors in Portland

Another conversation that repeated itself throughout the conference was the discussion about how to fund an entrepreneurial environment. And time and time again it came back to one simple point: for funding to work, it has to be local.

Now this works one of two ways. You either make your locality where the money is—by moving to the Valley for example—or you find local money to fund your project, local angels to invest in startups, and local funds to support larger investments.

Obviously, I’m leaning toward the latter. (And that’s what makes tonight’s Nedspace event especially well timed.)

Portland has a great deal in common with China

You heard me right. Yes, yes. It surprised me, too.

I didn’t intentionally go to the conference to learn about the entrepreneurial environment in China. But as I began to learn more and more about it, I realized that the Portland startup scene had a great deal in common with the Chinese startup environment.

They’re building phenomenal products in China that none of us know about. They’re pushing technology in ways that rival or eclipse our ability to deploy it. China is perceived to have a wealth of development talent that outside companies want to tap. They’re attracting more and more entrepreneurs who see China as a land of opportunity. And the Chinese want to do business—but they want to do it on their terms.

Sounds pretty familiar to me.

Portland can succeed in Portland’s own way

Finally, the overarching theme of the conference sounded eerily similar to something I’ve tried to champion in Portland: Work hard at doing what you love and you will succeed.

No matter if it’s Zappos shipping happiness or Gary Vaynerchuk hustling wine or a bunch of volunteers putting together an open source conference or the Bac’n guys selling premium pig parts. It doesn’t matter. Doing what you love—and working your ass off to do it—will lead to success.

And I don’t know anyone who works harder at doing what they love than the folks in the Portland startup scene.

Thanks, again, SXSW for making me think even more about Portland

So that’s what I got out of SXSW, this year. No doubt the 60+ Portland types who were there each got something completely different out of it.

But that’s the magic of SXSW. And that’s the primary reason I’ll keep going back to SXSW as many times as I can.

So I go all the way down to Texas to think about Portland some more. But that’s just how I am. Did I make some incorrect intuitive leaps? Do you disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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You may have already won a quarter of a million dollars

Money in OregonNo, this isn’t some spammy email. It could prove to be true for startups in the Silicon Forest if everything goes right.

And it all begins with a very simple question: What could you accomplish with $250,000, this year? That’s what the folks at Portland-based Nedspace are asking, this Thursday.

Why? Because you may actually have the chance to get your hands on those funds.

Most importantly, though, the goal of this event is to prove to the State of Oregon that there are enough jobs, compelling ideas and entrepreneurs to warrant an immediate investment of $100,000,000 for start ups that want to hire local talent.

We are working to raise a $100M fund that makes small investments in Oregon-based companies who hire Oregon-based employees. Now, in 2009. Not next year or some point in the future. In growing these new startups, we are investing in innovation, creating jobs and building Oregon’s brand with innovators and entrepreneurs.

Oh, so now that question seems a lot more interesting, doesn’t it?

The event is a combined effort of Capybara Ventures, NW Technology Ventures, NedSpace, Oregon Angel Fund, Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, Reference Capital, Software Association of Oregon and Starve Ups. It will be held Thursday evening at Nedspace—right next door to the Lotus on SW 3rd.

If you would like to participate—and just between you and me, I think you should—be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Could your company hire $250,000 worth of Oregon-based talent in 2009 to get it to the next level?
  • What could your company achieve during 2009 with a $250,000 investment?
  • How many new jobs would be created if 400 new Oregon startups were funded?
  • How would you like to see $100,000,000 invested in Oregon startups?

For more information or to RSVP, see “Startup Now: What Would Your Startup Do With $250,000 in 2009?

[UPDATE]

Can’t make the event? They’ve set up a live stream.

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(Photo courtesy mashmal. Used under Creative Commons.)

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Bac’n: It’s what’s for lunch, March 2

Bacn your online source for premium baconBuilding a successful startup takes years, right? Well, months? Weeks and weeks? How about 21 days?

That’s about how long it took Scott Kveton and team to build and launch Bac’n, a site that sells high-end bacon and bacon-oriented paraphernalia.

How did they do it in such a short time period? Well, you can find out. On Monday March 2, Kveton will speak at the newly opened Nedspace—a startup coworking space in downtown Portland—about his experience creating Bacn.com:

Come hear Scott Kveton (Bac’n co-founder) talk about how he and his team launched this successful tasty bacon monster in under just three short weeks. You will oink yourself to happiness as Scott weaves true tales of bare-hooved bootstrapping and entrepreneurial maneuvers in the dark.

Tail curling stories designed to share with you what works, what does not, and having the bacon to move ahead like a greased, well you know. This little piggy went to market, and it owns the bacon market online.

And of course, true to form, bacon will be provided.

Pricing is listed as free to entrepreneurs, “$15 to numbskulls, $25 to vegetarians.”

For more information, visit Bac’n Meat Up on Upcoming or Calagator.

Y Combinator founder likes Portland’s potential for startups

Can Portland become a startup hub? It’s a question that we discuss time and time again.

We have the hackers, but can we attract the right kind of investors? Can we create a startup environment that meshes with the Portland—and Silicon Forest—culture? Can we build a sustainable startup engine?

I believe we can and I know I’m not alone in that regard.

Now, Paul Graham, founder of the well-known early stage startup incubator Y Combinator, has provided another vote of confidence for the Rose City. In a post entitled “Can You Buy a Silicon Valley? Maybe.” he proposes a way to fund and retain startups “for a particular city.”

It’s an interesting argument. But what I found most interesting was this (emphasis is mine):

How well this scheme worked would depend on the city. There are some towns, like Portland, that would be easy to turn into startup hubs, and others, like Detroit, where it would really be an uphill battle. So be honest with yourself about the sort of town you have before you try this.

So now, it’s not just obvious to us, anymore. It’s obvious to the outside world, as well.

It seems like there’s an opportunity here. And we shouldn’t squander it.

(Hat tip Elia Freedman)

OTBC: So, you start up here often?

OTBCFor many “side project” entrepreneurs, the most difficult part of getting an idea off the ground—and out of the garage or basement—is finding that business partner that complements their skillset.

Business people with good ideas can write all the business plans they want, but they’ll eventually need a developer. And developers can crank all the code they want, but eventually they’ll need some way of approaching the market or getting more funding. But how are they supposed to find one another?

Enter OTBC startup speed dating.

After some networking time, we’ll have each idea person looking for a team give 2 or 3 minute elevator pitch, have each of them head to their own corner of the room, and let people circulate around to check out the startups that sound interesting to them.

The first speed dating event will be held Saturday, February 28 from 1 – 4PM at the OTBC (located in The Round in Beaverton, right on the MAX line). Best of all? It’s all free.

If you’d like to give folks a little pre-briefing on your startup turn-ons and turn-offs, give them some more details your idea. Word around the campfire is that at least 10 startups will be participating. Details on those startups will be listed this week.

For more information, see the OTBC post, Upcoming, or Meetup. And of course, I will mention that OTBC speed dating is on Calagator, too. (Because I heart Calagator.)

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Portland Ten: Incubating 10 $1 million startups by 2010

After spending the better part of the year researching the Portland startup community, Carolynn Duncan has come to the same conclusion as the many of us: Portland is one huge R&D shop. Which is great for innovation. But not always as good for revenue-generating business.

Carolynn writes:

  1. The pre-revenue, pre-funding entrepreneur community lacks a core understanding of the fundraising process, and perceives that there is a lack of seed capital.
  2. Local investors and funds appear to be few & far between, while investors outside the area fly between Seattle and San Francisco, without paying serious attention to what’s happening in PDX.
  3. Geeks prefer working on their own side projects independently, rather than joining a startup, or taking their technologies to a commercialized level.

In essence, the area as a whole interacts much like a national laboratory or research university, with results being that the entrepreneurial talent neglects to convert side projects into startups, and the geeks, while coalescing as a supportive & sociable community, tends to be underutilized/underemployed.

So how do we address that problem? Traditional venture capital models? No. How about something that better meshes with the existing startup culture? An incubator along the lines of Y Combinator.

Meet Portland Ten.

The goal? Incubate 10 Portland startups capable of generating at least $1 million in revenue per year—by August 2010.

Ten by ’10. Get it?

But Carolynn doesn’t see this as a problem at which one can just throw capital. It requires something more educational. More focused on mentoring. Using the expertise she’s gained on the VC side of the desk and her co-advisors—Mark Grimes and Josh Friedman—have gained running (and in Mark’s case, selling) their own startups.

It’s an intensive bootcamp, but there isn’t any money going to the startups. With Portland Ten, the startups are paying:

[We’re looking for] an entrepreneur right on the cusp of starting a high-growth business. A teachable entrepreneur who will commit to the required activities, and the optional activities when possible.

An entrepreneur who will consider themselves the first investor in the project and raise the funds to pay the $500/month program tuition.

Interested in applying to participate? Portland Ten is currently accepting applications for its first 12-week session, beginning February 23.

If you’ve got a side project that you’re convinced will be a viable business, it’s time to grab those bootstraps, my friend—and check out Portland Ten.

[UPDATE 2/12/2009] This post elicited some great comments and it sparked an interesting discussion on Y Combinator’s Hacker News. As a result, Carolynn has taken the opportunity to address 14 of the questions/critiques about Portland Ten.

No-name iPhone agency starts with two big names: Raven Zachary and James Keller

Why is the Brady Bunch theme song running through my head?

Maybe it’s because I’ve just heard the story of a man named Raven and a woman named James who’ve decided to combine their incredible talents.

Raven Zachary started his own iPhone consultancy last year. And he’s been overwhelmingly successful. Being involved in the Obama iPhone app can do that to you. And helping with something like iPhorest only continues the momentum.

So, he decided it was time to do something more.

“Since the Obama app, I’ve encountered some amazing brands and amazing opportunities,” said Raven. “And they were affecting my ability to remain an independent advisor in the iPhone community. It became very clear to me that there was the opportunity to build an iPhone agency.”

Enter James “@semaphoria” Keller, a wizard at Interaction Design, Information Architecture, and User Experience with a rich agency history. Her most recent gig? Serving as Interactive Strategist at Wieden + Kennedy.

“I love technology and how companies communicate with their community,” said James. “Getting to really dig deep and find a place for that within such a new—and gorgeous—platform is really a dream come true. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, follow-your-heart pursuit.”

Now, they’re joining forces to form a strategic iPhone agency.

James Keller on the new gig

Why an agency model instead of pure app development? Raven and James are both interested in helping people develop and interact with their communities. The iPhone platform is a means to that end—albeit an incredibly creative platform for doing so.

The agency will also likely build apps of their own—Andrew Pouliot and Jonathan Wight, the lead dev on the Obama app, help round out the team—but it’s the strategy on which they will focus the majority of their time and effort.

Not only is this big for all of them, it’s big for Portland and its continued place in the mobile space.

“I think it’s a great fit for Portland because of the long history of creative services and technology,” said Raven. “We’re focusing on both. It’s really more of an agency than a development shop. But it’s really a small, small boutique agency.”

“I think you can be creative and strategic and develop well,” James said. “It’s a uniquely Portland thing.”

So what’s it called? Well, they don’t know yet. But you can find them at Raven.me.

“Maybe instead of Raven.me [Raven’s current consultancy], we can call it Raven.us?” said James.

At the very least, Todd gets his wish.

TiEsQue on Raven and James

Portland startups—and other Silicon Forest startups—defy the Oregon tech slump

I was just going to link to this. And then I thought better of it.

“A link?” I thought. “This is traditional media taking notice and giving credit where credit is due. This needs more than a link.”

So, I give you this piece from my former college classmate, Mike Rogoway over at The Oregonian entitled “Oregon losing high-tech jobs—with more bad news to come.”

A steady drumbeat of cutbacks in Oregon’s high-tech sector has reduced the number of technology jobs in the state to its lowest point in nearly three years.

Wait a second. Where’s the positivity? Where’s the “credit where credit is due”?

Well, that comes at the end of the article. From which I’ll judiciously quote (passage emphasis is mine, not Mike’s):

Oregon’s tech industry has one distinct bright spot: software.

Long the weakest link in Oregon’s technology economy, software has emerged strongly over the past few years—spurred by a vibrant community of open source software developers and Web services companies that require little investment capital to get started.

Software jobs are up 12 percent during the past two years, and now number 9,500. Although still a relatively tiny part of the overall state economy—which numbers more than 1.7 million jobs altogether—software is the fastest growing part of the high-tech sector and one of a small number of industries that is defying the broader economic slowdown.

Much of the activity is concentrated in Portland’s Old Town, home to a cluster of companies that develop software for the Internet. Examples include password-protection technology from Oklahoma transplant Vidoop, and collaboration tools from Jive Software.

“We’re just this wonderful hotbed of open source, brew-your-own-softwareville,” said Harvey Mathews of the Software Association of Oregon. “It’s a tight community, so we all help each other out. Which isn’t the case in lots of other industries.”

Can I get a “w00t!!!1!”? This is exactly the kind of thing we want to see. The kind of recognition you deserve. And the reason I continue to relentlessly document all the cool things you’re doing.

You’re making it happen. And you’re blowing the curve.

And for that, you need to congratulate yourselves, Portland and Silicon Forest startups. You deserve it.

Keep up the good work. Stay focused. And keep working to on that code.

I’ll be sure to let everyone else know: they ain’t seen nothing yet.

Panels: Quintessential Portland entrepreneur Craig Barnes launches another startup

PanelsFew other entrepreneurs in the Silicon Forest have started and led as many high-profile local companies as Craig Barnes.

But that’s not stopping him from starting another.

Startups in his blood

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Craig’s track record, you should be. His record boasts a veritable “who’s who” of Portland tech companies:

  • Founded Now Software and in three years had grown it into the largest software company focusing exclusively on Mac software.
  • Founded Portland’s Extensis and grew the venture-backed business into a $100 million acquisition. Extensis recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.
  • Founded You Software, a Portland company that adds features and functionality to the software you already use.
  • Spun Attensa out of You Software, creating a company focused on building an attention-based RSS management system that garnered $12 million in venture backing. (For more information, I recommend reading Marshall Kirkpatrick’s write-up on Attensa, back when he use to write for a little blog called TechCrunch.)

Introducing Panels

Now, Barnes has founded another startup. And much like the other companies he’s founded, it’s designed to help you deal with a glut of information by making the products you already use better.

But this time, it’s all about the Web.

Designed for bloggers, Panels uses a small panel to provide additional information about companies that are being covered, much in the vein of services like Snap’s Snap Shots:

Panels appear for any company or organization ranging from the biggest public companies such as Apple, Ford, AT&T, or WalMart to up and coming startups such as WebDiet (launched at the Demo Fall 08 technology conference this week) and Yammer (launched at TechCrunch50 this week and chosen as winner!) By the time we go live there will be millions of entities in the system with improvements and features appearing almost daily.

But to me, the most interesting thing about Panels is the depth of content that it provides.

Panels example

Unlike traditional “additional information” popup services, Panels provides a multi-tab view of information, including:

  • “About” – Basic company and contact info, URL, logo, and summary [including details from Portland-based company-information wiki AboutUs]
  • “Site” – A full preview of the home page, stats, tags and other goodies about the actual web site/blog
  • “Map” – Beginning with Google Maps, and others to follow, a place for geographic data
  • “News” – Headlines, Blog posts, News, Press Releases and more from a variety of sources
  • “Jobs” – Employment listings across numerous providers such as monster and simplyhired
  • “Financial” – If a public company, real-time info and quotes appear in several sub-categories

So why use Panels? Primarily, to provide a much richer set of information on the companies to which you’re linking—while keeping people on your site.

Basically, you’re eliminating the blind clicks that tend to draw the attention-deficient Web surfers away from what you’re trying to convey.

Also interesting? The inspiration behind the development?

Panels were inspired by the nutritional panels found on food that are mandated by the federal government. Like nutritional panels, our panels have a standard text-centric user interface that delivers consistent, predictable, detailed, real-time information from a variety of data sources across several categories.

Now, if I could only tell if the link was going to be nutritional or just so much Web junk food.

Panels is currently in closed beta. For more information or to see Panels in action, see Craig’s post introducing Panels. Or to request a beta account, visit Panels.

Get ready for busy week in the Portland Web and startup scene

I’m happy to see that our beautiful summer weather continues to hang around. But from an event standpoint? It looks like summer’s over.

If this week’s event schedule is any indication, people are clearly ready to get back to business in the Portland Web and startup scene.

There’s a lot going on, so I thought it might be helpful to provide a round-up of what I’m tracking. And if I missed your event (it happens), please take a moment to comment below so that we can get it on folks’ calendars:

  • Monday at 6 PM, it’s Mobile love, Android style #5. This meetup is an informal opportunity to discuss all things android-related. The android space is heating up again. The HTC Dream phone received FCC certification in August and will be sold by T-Mobile by November if not earlier. 0.9 of the SDK was released with 1.0RC1 around the corner.
  • Tuesday at 9 AM, you’re invited to watch startups pitch at the FundingUniverse Portland LivePitch. The audience at LivePitch receives $100 of “fake money” to “invest” in their favorite entrepreneurs, with prizes awarded to both a panel and audience favorite. There will be 60 minutes of pitching, and 30 minutes for general networking.
  • Tuesday at 7 PM, the Portland Python User Group will be meeting, featuring Leo Soto, a Jython GSoC hacker, will be presenting his DjangoCon 2008 talk “Django on Jython.”
  • Wednesday at 5 PM, it’s the OEN PubTalk “Becoming socially responsible: Understanding your company’s role in the world of social media.” I’ll be hosting a panel featuring Josh Bancroft from Intel, Dawn Foster from Fast Wonder, and Marshall Kirkpatrick from ReadWriteWeb. Rest assured, I’ll be letting the smart people talk while I nod and smile. Not interested in coughing up the dough to attend? I’ve got a few free passes that I’ll be giving away, so stay tuned.
  • Oregon Entrepreneur Network not your style? Sorry, you don’t get to take a night off, because there’s also the first Refresh Portland starting at 6:30 PM. Refresh Portland is a monthly talk (held every 2nd Wednesday) about design, front-end development, usability and web standards. Sound interesting? Check out the new Refresh Portland site.
  • I don’t see anything on Thursday, for obvious reasons. But if that changes, I’ll let you know. I knew it. Thanks to Joe Cohen for the tip that Calagator lists a Thursday event to include in this list: Thursday at 5 PM is the Luz Codesprint. Luz is a Ruby music visualization playground, aiming to create a simple, beautiful GUI for artists, and simple, beautiful code internally! This event is open to Everyone, from coders to artists to musicians, everyone’s input and contributions will be super useful.
  • Friday, a bunch of local venture capital types will be gathering out at the Intel Jones Farm campus in hopes of seeing a Tesla Roadster. I hear there may be a conference there too. It’s called the Silicon Forest Forum, an event that features entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and management executives who know what it takes to create and run successful ventures. For more information and a speak line-up, visit the Silicon Forest Forum.
  • The one Friday fixture that needs no reminder—Beer and Blog—starts at 4 PM at the Green Dragon. This week is a “topic” week. So stay tuned for the details on the speaker.
  • And beginning Friday evening and running through Saturday its From Side Project to Startup. I don’t have to tell you that launching a business into the wider world can be daunting or confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. If you learn from other people’s experiences. How? Join this hybrid scheduled and unconference event designed to take the entrepreneurial conversations that started at BarCamp Portland and Startupalooza to the next level. To take a peek at the complete agenda, visit From Side Project to Startup.

Whoof. That’s a lot of activity. Even for our usually hyperactive tech scene.

I’m going to be trying to make as many of these as I can—especially the ones where I’m lucky enough to be “on the agenda,” as they say.

Hopefully, I’ll see you at a few of them, too.

Oh, and one last thing. If you’re interested in keeping track of what’s happening in the Portland Web and startup scene, feel free to join the Silicon Florist group on Upcoming. That way, you’ll always be up-to-date on the latest and greatest events.

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