And I’m happy to report that, with the announcement of the finalists for the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network Tom Holce Awards, there are a couple of Silicon Florist regulars—out of the 14 nominees—getting the recognition they so richly deserve.
[HTML3]Now, I know many of you continue to work and slave on your entrepreneurial pursuits because you’re driven to do so. Quite frankly, you can’t help it. You just have to do it. So, whether you’re recognized or not, you’re going to keep doing what you’re doing.
We all realize that there’s a ton of stuff happening in town. New startups, exciting side projects, crazy cool events. And every day it seems like we’re learning about more and more opportunities to draw the community together—or cool new technologies to test drive.
This leads to two issues. First, how do we keep track of all this stuff? And second, how do we filter all of this stuff?
Silicon Florist wiki to the rescue, my friends! Well or you can refer to it by its more common name: AboutUs. Read More
I like to tell myself that that is part of my charm.
But honestly, I thought—rather than enter with pre-conceived notions—it would be better to get the story straight from David Almodovar of CreditSuisse.
Still, I have to be honest, I did walk into the meeting expecting one of two things to happen. Either I was going to find Dave perched atop a giant treasure chest overflowing with gold coins and jewels, cackling as he screeched in a Dr. Evil-esque manner “Here’s one hundred meeeellion dollars that you’ll never see.” Or I was going to find him wide-eyed and rapt with attention, hanging on my every word about the startup community in the Silicon Forest, until he finally gathered his wits and managed to utter, “Let me grab my checkbook. Would $50 million do?”
In reality—shockingly enough—neither of those things happened. I didn’t find a maniacal villain or babe-in-the-woods filled with naivete. Instead, I found a guy simply doing the job he was supposed to do: trying to attract investors for Oregon companies.
And as I walked through the questions I had—and the questions you were kind enough to ask—what became increasingly clear was this: the OIF can’t solve the problem we’re experiencing (and by “we,” I mean you entrepreneurs who are actually brave enough to start your own thing; not me, who sits here pontificating on your activities) because they weren’t designed to do so.
But I digress. Suffice it to say, the bulk of the problem at hand is not one that the OIF is designed to solve. You see, the OIF isn’t meant to be an investor. It’s meant to be bait or mistletoe or whatever.
That is, while they do happen to engage in some co-investment from time to time, they don’t lead on investments. In fact, the OIF is actually a fund of funds.
The Oregon Investment Fund (OIF) is a fund to other funds. OIF is designed to encourage, to build and to invest in growing, innovative enterprises creating risk-adjusted returns for the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund (OPERF).
So while OIF has money, that money is meant to serve as a means of attracting larger sums of money. By enticing venture capitalists to Oregon. And by encouraging—nay requiring—them to spend time here, chatting with entrepreneurs and growing companies alike.
Our financial strategy is to spread our risk across several types of funds, ranging from buyouts that invest in more mature and established businesses, to venture capital, and to early/seed stage funds that invest in young, fast growing companies. As of November 2008, we’ve invested in 10 funds in the Pacific Northwest region and in turn, we encourage these funds to invest in the growing local and regional market.
To support our strategy and encourage business growth in the Pacific Northwest, we actively build relationships between our funds and local entrepreneurs.
And they’ve been very successful in that regard, attracting approximately $233 million of investment for 20 companies, resulting in more than 900 jobs for Oregonians.
As part of that effort the OIF has managed to attract investment for some smaller startup organization in our area—and in the tech realm which I tend to cover here on Silicon Florist.
Kryptiq is one example of a company which has benefitted from the assistance of the OIF. AboutUs is another. OIF helped both of these organizations by attracting a venture capital firm that was looking for opportunities. In both of these cases, Voyager wound up being the firm that took advantage of the investment opportunities.
“Voyager invested in our Series A and they are the most active VC in tech startups in the Portland area,” said Ray King, CEO of AboutUs. “I think OIF has done a better job of attracting VCs to invest in Oregon than some other pursuits.”
And that starts to get to the crux of this square-peg-in-a-round-hole disconnect between many of the ventures in the Silicon Forest and the capitalists who are seeking to fund them: side projects and garage projects don’t always make good targets for VCs looking to invest large sums of money.
“We have a definite interest in building the entrepreneurial community here in Portland,” said Dave. “But we have a very institutional mindset. We’re not pursuing incubator-level investments.”
That said, there are investors that have been attracted by the OIF—Voyager for one and DFJ Frontier for another—who are interested in participating in much earlier rounds.
The OIF, it seems, is actually doing their job. It just so happens that that job doesn’t exactly line-up with the areas where our startup community needs assistance.
And that’s not really a “problem” per se. It’s just the way things are.
By way of analogy, it’s like having a hammer and needing to drive a screw. Looking at the two, it seems like it should work. But in practice, the two are fairly incompatible.
So, it’s very interesting to have the OIF out there, attracting VCs. And they’re very open in talking to any entrepreneurs and providing advice and guidance. Whether you’re interested in pursuing major funding or not. But when it comes right down to it, there is no knight in shining armor patiently waiting to fund very early stage companies in our startup environment.
But that knight is ready and waiting when companies—like Kryptiq and AboutUs—reach a point where the OIF can lend a hand.
So despite all my years of watching Geraldo Rivera and John Stossel, this little piece of investigative journalism fell a wee bit short. No big boogeyman. No bad guy. Just a series of seemingly complementary situations that, in fact, were not complementary.
Come to think of it, it was a bit like Geraldo’s whole Al Capone’s Vault thing. But didn’t we all learn something there, too? What’s that? Oh, I see.
Long story short, there’s still a funding problem or a “how we work on these projects and still manage to eat” problem. And we’re still searching for a solution. Currently, OIF isn’t the organization designed to solve it. In fact, there may be no existing organization designed to solve it.
Why? I like to think of the Portland startup scene as an untapped natural resource. But it’s not obvious how to use it. And we can’t take the current method of running in and depleting that resource. Because that either won’t work or it will kill it completely. We have to find a new way to work with those resources in a sustainable manner. And I think that calls for a new method of funding.
I could go on and on. But that’s an argument for another time, you special snowflake you.
So where do we go from here? Maybe the Big Idea Bash
So that’s that.
Next up? Beginning conversations with the politicians, entities, and investors who hold an interest in very early stage investments and maybe, just maybe, incubation. In other words, we need to find the solutions that are designed to solve the problems. Solutions like the Startup Now Oregon pursuit.
Small businesses drive employment. Venture models have demonstrated the potential return of small growth companies. We have the opportunity to spawn high growth businesses that will deliver additional employment and high return on capital. These businesses will succeed because the crisis we face will economically reward new businesses the deliver solutions to our problems.
And if those solutions don’t exist? We may need to find a new way to make it work. But let’s at least start the conversations first.
And lo and behold, it just so happens a great place to start some of those conversations may, in fact, be an event hosted by the Oregon Treasurer Ben Westlund that the OIF is helping organize: the Big Idea Bash on April 29.
The Big Idea Bash is a social gathering created to connect entrepreneurs to the organizations that can help them flourish. This year the event will feature a speed pitching session, creating a unique opportunity to present new company ideas to a select group of Venture Capitalists who are funding emerging companies in Oregon.
I’m going to try to make it. And I would encourage you to try to attend, as well. Or don’t. I mean, it would be great to have you there, but you can also be sure that I’m likely to blather on about the event here afterwards.
One thing is for sure. Recent activity has clearly shown that I need more—arguably much, much more—education on what solutions currently exist and what they have been designed to do. And we’ve still got a long way to go in helping people understand the startup environment in which we find ourselves.
In any case, I’m looking forward to digging into this more and figuring out the ways to get you entrepreneurial types the kinds of help that will enable you to make your products a reality—and that will, in turn, make the Silicon Forest a success.
Yesterday, a number of us celebrated the 14th anniversary of a gift Ward Cunningham gave to the world, the Wiki. So today seemed like an appropriate day to celebrate a new gift that Ward—and his current company AboutUs—have given to the Web community. Something that features some of that same Wiki goodness and yet, brings something new to the table, the AboutUs widget.
What’s the AboutUs widget do? Quite simply, it provides a chunk of dynamically updated information about any Web site referenced in AboutUs to any blog—actually any site for that matter. Or, as the creators of the widget describe it:
Whatever your blogging forte, the widget is a way for you to serve your readers better by providing an unobtrusive introduction to websites you’ve mentioned. The best part is, if you or your readers have ideas for improving this info, editing the AboutUs page updates the widget automatically.
And now, you can use the widget, too. Just go to any AboutUs page and look in the right sidebar for the widget code.
What’s that? The site you want to feature doesn’t have an AboutUs page? It only takes a few seconds to add it. Just add it, provide a short description and some topics, and voila! Widget worthy.
But how did the this little piece of widget magic come about? That, my friends, is an interesting little story. Gather round and let me spin a little tale….
AboutUs Widget: The True Hollywood Portland-collaboration Story
Not so long ago, I was a wee bit frustrated. I wanted to provide additional information on the companies about which I was writing, but I didn’t want to keep repeating the same boilerplate over and over—and I wanted to make sure that it remained as fresh as possible.
What I wanted was something like the CrunchBase widget. Something simple and compact that provided necessary details about the company.
But there were a couple of problems with the CrunchBase widget as far as Silicon Florist was concerned. What were they? I’m glad you asked (because I’m going to tell you anyway).
First, most of the companies I write about aren’t in CrunchBase—and aren’t likely relevant to the majority of the CrunchBase population. Once they reach that level, they’re a bit above my pay grade. Second, an important part of the CrunchBase data set is “funding.” Given that most of the startups I profile are pre-funding side projects or garage gigs, that was a gap. Third, in my experience with CrunchBase—when I tried to edit the content for Vidoop to indicate that it was, in fact, a Portland company not a Tulsa company anymore—the updates weren’t “dynamic.” They required approval. Meaning, that the CrunchBase information could be incorrect for the time that the majority of the folks were reading the posts. Finally, as much as I loved the CrunchBase content, it simply wasn’t homegrown.
So that got me to thinking: maybe I should build a little database and widget of my own? A database that contained relevant details on the companies or projects that I write about. That contained the information I thought was relevant—and that I could edit on a moment’s notice so that it was always fresh.
And after about two seconds of thinking about the time and effort required to build and maintain that kind of resource, I smacked myself for even letting that thought enter my head. Or I noticed some shiny new Silicon Forest startup about which I could write.
Honestly, it’s a bit cloudy.
Besides, if I built it, it would only be available to me. And seriously, how useful is that? That’s right. Not very.
If only, I thought. If only there were some structured database of Web site information that I could access. Some set of data that was always up-to-date, that was easy to embed, and that had access to information on the types of companies and projects I tended to cover.
And if only it existed in the Silicon Forest. A homegrown solution, as it were.
And then, there I was standing at Portland Lunch 2.0. And there was Ward standing there.
And then it hit me.
AboutUs has a structured database of the Web site information I need. AboutUs is always up-to-date—and if it’s not, I can change it. I mean, it’s a wiki, right? And AboutUs has every single Web site ever—and if it doesn’t I could add it in a matter of seconds. Best of all? AboutUs is a homegrown Portland, Oregon, Silicon Forest production.
So, I walked up to Ward and said, “If you’ve got a second, I have an idea….”
And Ward was kind enough to listen. And we talked it through. And it turned out that there was something interesting for AboutUs there, too. It provided another way to distribute the AboutUs content to a variety of providers and a way to get folks back to AboutUs to edit and update their content.
So a few meetings, some note card sketches, and countless hours of coding that fell on someone else’s shoulders besides mine, and we have the first iteration of the AboutUs widget.
I can’t help but take pride in helping this little widget come into being—if only as being one of the sparks of the idea. And I couldn’t be happier to get the chance to work with the amazing AboutUs team—Ward Cunningham, Didip Kerabat, BJ Clark, Vinh Nguyen, and Jon Farr—to bring the idea to fruition.
This is still an early first step. And there’s room to improve. So give the AboutUs widget a shot. Embed it. Test it. Give me or them feedback about what you’d like to see.
We’ve already got some ideas on how we can improve it and what features can be added. But it would be great to hear from you—and to see you adding it to your blogs and Web sites.
At the very least, you’ll find the widgets a regular addition to Silicon Florist blog posts. Hopefully, they provide you with some relevant and meaningful information beyond my usual blather. And if not? You can always change them—unlike my blather.
[Full disclosure: Iterasi is a client and I’ve been working with AboutUs on a top-secret widget project.]
If you’ve ever been looking for dated information on the Web, you’ve likely come across the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive. No site provides such a detailed reference to the yester-Web, allowing us to reach back to forgotten history and grab snippets of the Web as it once was.
But for all the compliments I can pile on the Wayback Machine, it is not without its flaws.
The biggest gripe? The Wayback Machine only archives HTML. That means that any image files or CSS that is needed to render a page doesn’t get archived. Which means if that information gets deleted from the original server, then the Wayback Machine archives don’t render properly.
Needless to say, a bunch of pages render poorly.
My other complaint? The Wayback Machine wasn’t created in the Silicon Forest. But that’s just how I am.
Okay. That’s Wayback Machine 1.0. Hold that thought.
Now, when it comes to accessing current information about any Web site, few resources can compete with the simplicity and ease-of-use of Portland-based AboutUs. Even if AboutUs doesn’t have a current page about a site, they’ll render one in a matter of seconds. So, typing “http://aboutus.org/%5Bwhatever URL you want]” is about the easiest way to get information on any site—as it currently exists.
There’s just one problem: seeing how a site looked in the past isn’t always that simple. You can review the Wiki change tracking, but that’s not always the best way of assessing the changes to the site. And if you just added the site to AboutUs, you have no idea what the site looked like previously.
Now for that historical reference, Portland-based Iterasi is about the easiest way to see how a site looked in the past.
But Iterasi has its own flaw: the archive isn’t terribly broad. It’s deep for certain “Web 2.0 cool kid” sites, but it could use more breadth.
If only AboutUs could find a site that helped provide the historical reference they’re missing. If only Iterasi could find a site that could help extend the breadth of their Web archive.
Well welcome to a “You got your archive in my current information! You got your current information pointing to my archive!” moment as two great Portland tastes have found a way to taste great together.
That’s right. AboutUs and Iterasi are partnering. And the result could be what we’ve all been wanting the Wayback Machine to provide: current details and accurate historical renderings.
Welcome to the Wayback Machine 2.0.
Sure, the Iterasi link isn’t huge, but it is important.
Now, you can visit AboutUs to get the latest information about any given site. Looking for historical information? Iterasi is there to provide the archived pages that they have on file. Voila!
So why is this cool? Well for a whole bunch of reasons. It gives the AboutUs user a very cool new feature (obviously…right!). AboutUs users can now search through the iterasi archive to research the evolution of the Website, search for information of historical significance, whatever. For iterasi, it should be a source of traffic to our site where we can hopefully turn them into happy users as well.
Now, we’ve partnered with the smart folks at Iterasi to give their archive greater visibility and provide the people visiting AboutUs with an additional resource for information about websites and the organizations and people attached to them. Now at every AboutUs page, you’ll find a link to the Iterasi Archive of pages relating to that site.
When you name business publications in the Portland area, the Portland Business Journal is likely right up there at the top. It tends to be the go-to resource for small businesses here in town. And, for the past 8 years, Aliza Earnshaw has been working the local beat, writing about what’s happening in Portland.
Well, you write about enough small tech businesses and startups long enough and suddenly you want to join them.
Which is exactly what happened with Aliza. She’s announced that she is joining AboutUs as the Editor-in-Chief for the burgeoning “Wikipedia of Web sites.”
I’ve had the opportunity to work with Aliza over the years in my various corporate communications roles—like MedicaLogic and ProSight. I’m looking forward to seeing how she leverages her impressive journalistic chops in this new role.
Aliza’s last day at PBJ will be tomorrow. She begins at AboutUs, next month.
Your first writing job at the new gig, Aliza? Building out your AboutUs page, of course.
Yesterday, we ended the first year of Portland Lunch 2.0 at the place it all began in February 2008, AboutUs.
I didn’t get a very official count at either event, but I think we went from about 50 at the first Lunch 2.0 to well over a 100 yesterday. I saw a lot of familiar faces, along with new ones.
Aside from opening up their sweet renovated warehouse office space to us, AboutUs provided chotchkies (cell phone charms featuring the universal edit button and AboutUs buttons), grub and cupcakes as big as a fist. They had a projector broadcasting a stream of their pageviews, which attracted a lot of attention; Lunch 2.0 still is a pretty geeky crowd after all.
Case in point, someone suggested that we watch the list to see if there were repeat IPs, but this quickly made me dizzy and disoriented.
Another nice touch was the arrangement of cinema displays (color me jealous) along the western wall of the office that read “HAPPY BIRTHDAY LUNCH 2.0”.
We skipped the talkie-talkie this time. Everyone was happily chatting around the office, which is kinda the point. No need to interrupt everyone to listen to me mumble, and AboutUs had all their people mingling and answering questions about what they do.
Big thanks to the whole AboutUs crew for hosting, especially to Steven for organizing.
Likewise, thanks to Aaron Hockley who provided excellent photos of the event. All photos in the post are by Aaron and used under Creative Commons. Incidentally, check out Aaron’s Lunch 2.0 – Portland set on Flickr; it provides a great history of the event. Aaron has been to nearly all the Lunch 2.0s, and he usually has his camera to document the festivities. His photos also pop up on Flickr widget on lunch20.com, the home of the original Bay Area chapter because of how awesome they are. OK, it’s also because they’re tagged “lunch2.0”.
Anyway, let’s peer into the future of Portland Lunch 2.0’s second year.
It’s been nearly a year since AboutUs hosted the first Portland Lunch 2.0 back in late February 2008, and we’ll be back there again this Wednesday, February 11.
The last year has been busy, in a good way, for the AboutUs crew. Since we lunched with them last, they’ve been busy raising money, no easy feat in this economy, and staying atop the Portland Startup Index.
I’m looking forward to checking in with the gang and with all of you, natch. You are coming, right? What better way to kick off what Bram has dubbed the “Busiest Day in Portland Tech“. He would know.
So, it’s settled. Just please make sure you RSVP over on Upcoming so they know how much food to get and drop a comment there if you’re a vegan or vegetarian.
It’s been a year now, with ten Lunches 2.0. Or is it Lunch 2.0s? Rick will know.
MioWorks needs a place to host their lunch. I guess their tiny office can’t hold 100+ people for lunch. So, if you have suggestions about where they could host, drop a comment, or noodle on it and wait for the official announcement.
Big thanks to all the hosts who have hosted or plan to host Lunch 2.0. I hope we can keep the Lunch 2.0 train rolling this year. Drop a comment (or tweet @jkuramot) if you want information about hosting one. It’s easy.
It’s always impressive when a Portland company lands funding, but given the current economic conditions, this is especially welcome news.
Quoting heavily from my post on ReadWriteWeb:
How does a small startup secure capital in such turbulent economic times? Being profitable helps – something AboutUs achieved by mid-year 2008. The company is forecasting continued growth, this year. Ray King, CEO, said the company is targeting $5 million in revenue for 2009. The primary source remains advertising, but the online marketing services AboutUs sells – including content creation and custom page development – continue to gain traction.
Another reason for investor confidence? The staff. AboutUs holds a special place in the world of wiki as the employer of Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the wiki, and they continue to attract new talent. They recently hired a number of new employees, including CFO Jack Williamson. King hopes to use the new funding to increase the size of the company to around 50 employees by the end of 2009, up from its current staff of 32.
Lunch 2.0 Portland began at the end of February 2008 at AboutUs. Since then, we’ve had nine, and our first trip to the ‘burbs at the new OTBC digs will make it an even ten.
Fittingly, AboutUs has agreed to host their second Lunch 2.0, as luck would have it, right around the Portland chapter’s first anniversary on February 11, 2009. OK, so it wasn’t luck, I planned it that way, with Steven Walling‘s help.Even though it’s contrived, you’ll want to come by and hang with the AboutUs crew. Here comes the skinny: