Tag: 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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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 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.

Here’s the Deadliest Catch: Hiring an Agency to Build Your Startup

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[HTML1]You just launched your new startup. You’re caught up in the excitement and energy of it all and happy to see your baby in the world… Here’s the catch, the deadliest: You can’t change or adapt your site because you hired an agency to build it.

Please know that I’m not picking on Agencies here… I’m picking on the entrepreneurs that hire agencies to build their startups. We have some of the best agencies in the world here, but you should NOT hire them to build your startup. (I mean no offense to any agencies that are reading this, but for startups to work with you they risk the future success of their business.)

Agencies Build Great Websites

Startups are not just websites. With a website for a small business you can get away with building it out and then other than keeping the content fresh and minor tweaks here and there, not mess with it much for a year or so. With a startup, you’re going to change, modify or add something major within the first few days, sometimes even hours of your site’s life. In some cases between the original site map and spec phase and the actual launch of the site, you’ll change something major.

No Ability to Change or Adapt

With any agency built site you’ll be able to update most of the content, maybe even add some sub content pages in your CMS area… But the startup world is extremely fast and chaotic. In order to survive a startup needs to be constantly evaluating their service, the market and the latest industry trends. When you exist in a market where a company can pop up overnight and completely shake things up, you need to be ready to adapt.

It is important to keep in mind that you can’t possibly create an exact plan for the first 18 or even 6 months of your startup. 50% of what you do will simply be wrong. You need the flexibility to constantly be testing out ideas, trying new things and you need the financial freedom to do a lot of the wrong stuff. If you’re paying an agency to be wrong 50% of the time, you’ll run out of money very quickly.

Agencies Are Not Cheap

I’ve worked in the agency world and I know that there are a lot of overhead costs to keep a small company afloat… I also know that you get what you pay for and getting great work from an agency means having to spend some money. But for the same price a startup would pay an agency to build their site, they can hire a solid designer and a talented programmer for an entire year. With your own developer you can test out ideas and be ready to respond quickly to problems and opportunities.

Lack of Speed Kills

Bids, Quotes, Objective Summaries, Wireframes, Etc. Speed kills when driving drunk. but it is what keeps your startup alive. The web world has the attention span of a goldfish and to stay on top of their rapidly shifting focus, you need to stay tuned in to what your users need / want.

Internet Startup Red FlagsNone of the Founders Can Actually Develop the Website.

It should be a huge red flag for the founders and their early investors when none of the founders can develop the site. This isn’t to say that a startup without any developer founders can’t succeed, but it will take a bigger financial investment and be a bit slower to get it off the ground.

When you don’t hire an agency, you have to know what you’re doing… you don’t have to know how to program your site… but you should know why you built it in PHP rather than ASP, why a certain framework is best for you or why you should custom build, etc. It is hugely important that somebody on the early team can build the site… or you immediately hire on a developer. If you simply can’t learn enough about what you’re trying to start to manage some technical contractors than find a partner who understands the technical part… If you just can’t learn it, then don’t start your site.

A Real World Scenario

Fantasy Land: You love sushi. You live on the stuff… You can rattle off all kinds of different rolls and fish delicacies… so you want to start a fishing company. You know how it generally works. Get a boat, hire a good crew, find some good fishing spots and viola! you’re rolling in the tuna.

Reality Land: You know nothing about how the fishing business actually works. You aren’t fluent in the terms… “Your sharemen are saying your prime berth is no good, so you’re talking to a banker about any naked mans that can point you in the right direction.” What kind of boat is right for what kind of fishing… long-lining, crabbing, etc.? How do you evaluate the skills of a good captain & crew? What is the appropriate equipment you need to buy to be effective? How do you know when you’re spending too much on something or not spending enough?

A Cure for Agencyitis

So what if you’re one of the entrepreneurs who has already hired an agency… or are a non-technical founder not sure how to go about learning what you need to learn to hire the right developer?

I didn’t want this to just be a harsh critique and not offer solutions, but the answer to the above question is a long answer and this post has already exceeded most people’s internet attention span. So I’m going to write a part 2 of this post with a hopefully helpful and in depth answer. Look for it here, or the coming soon www.InternetAstronauts.com – A Bootstrap Startup Blog

The Darius’ Advocate

The points above are from my experiences, but I’d love to hear your thoughts… even if you completely disagree. An agency perspective could be useful too.

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And now on a lighter note… and sticking with the fishing theme:

6 Ways Bering Sea Fisherman are Like Startup Entrepreneurs

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They Risk Big

Alaskan king crab fishing reported over 300 fatalities per 100,000 in 2005. While startup entrepreneurs rarely directly risk their lives like the bering sea fisherman, they risk their financial security, personal relationships and often put huge burdens on their loved ones.

They Love What You Do

If you’ve watched the deadliest catch than you would know that Bering Sea fisherman love what they do. They hear a calling to the sea and she beats the hell out of them every season… but they come back every year because they love being fishermen. Many of them have been generations fishermen and they pass down their love of the sea to their kids.

People Think They’re Nuts

It’s hard to watch the show and not think these guys are all missing a couple key connectors in their brain. The weather is as hostile as it gets, the work is back breaking hard and you stink like fish for weeks… oh yeah, and you’ll likely get sea sick enough to know what you look like from the inside out. To the outside person, it just doesn’t make any sense. Why give up the security of a comfortable career and balanced home life in order to work ridiculous hours and risk so much? Because they love it.

They Are Nuts

Let’s face it… you do have to be a little nutty to suffer as much as they do. But crazy ideas are often the most successful. It takes that stretch of the imagination and sanity to come up with something that doesn’t yet exist.

They Smell Bad

Startup entrepreneurs definitely don’t smell as bad as a fisherman, but chaotic working hours often throw a wrench in any plans you have to do basic things like grooming, working out… and sometimes even eating and drinking non-caffienated fluids.

They Need to Be a Bit Lucky

Fishermen have Charts, Maps, Expert Team Members… and if they drop their pots where the crab aren’t it could spell disaster for the season. They also can’t prepare for the random rogue waves that have been known to steal fishermen from the decks of the boat. A startup entrepreneur can have a solid launch plan, the right team and at the end of the day… a little bit of luck could be the difference between your rockets igniting or exploding on the launch pad.

They Make Good Money

The last one doesn’t count… because if you can’t handle the previous 6, then it doesn’t matter how much money you could make it just wouldn’t be worth it. Being a startup entrepreneur like being a Bering Sea fisherman is not about the money. It is about doing what you love and doing something new, exciting and hard as hell.

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[Editor: Thanks, once again, to Darius for sharing his ideas and opinions on the startup scene. I always look forward to hearing his insights and first-hand accounts from the trenches. For more from Darius…]

Darius A Monsef IV, Internet AstronautDarius is an Internet Astronaut and the creator and editor of COLOURlovers.com. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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

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.

Startupalooza launches 1,000 conversations

StartupaloozaWell it’s official. The first Startupalooza is in the books.

Designed to be a “more business-oriented BarCampy unconference,” the event more than fulfilled its goal. And, in so doing, completed a successful trifecta for the Portland Legion of Tech, adding Startupalooza as an equal among the successful BarCamp Portland and Ignite Portland events.

The best part, in my opinion? The new voices. And hearing new stories from the old ones.

In a town where you tend to run in very small and similar circles, Startupalooza both introduced new voices into the conversation—like the Garage Games guys from Eugene and the soon-to-be-a-Portland-fixture Intrigo team—and drew well-known, yet not-oft-seen types out of the woodwork to both observe—and participate.

Prior to the event, the primary coordinator and Legion of Tech Treasurer, Todd Kenefsky, intimated to me that he had some concerns about the lack of networking time built into the schedule. But guess what happens when you put a bunch of intelligent and entrepreneurial people in a room together? Those conversations just start to happen. In the audience. In the cubes behind the presentation area. In the lunchroom. In the hallway (which served as a bit of an echo chamber at times).

Every minute of the event was a time for networking. And for learning. And for sharing.

And, from the looks of things, everyone is still recovering from all of that energy concentrated in one place. Because posts about the event have been few and far between. Here’s some of the coverage I’ve been able to track, so far (if you have a wrap-up post that I’ve missed, please leave a comment, and I’ll add it to the list):

  • Scott Kveton “Startupalooza or Bust!”
    “All in all I was amazed at the vibrance of the Portland startup scene … clearly there is something here, clearly we’re just starting to pick up the pace here … I can’t imagine anywhere else on earth I’d rather be working and living.”
  • Bram Pitoyo “Startupalooza”
    “If learning from and having conversations with Portland’s greatest innovators (and, in some cases, even luminaries) for a whole day failed to excite your mind to want to create something bigger than yourself (a startup, collaborative, group, side project, community activity, etc.), I don’t know what else will.”
  • Michael Sigler “Startupalooza”
    “It’s obvious I moved to the right town. The collaborative spirit here is awesome. There is so much to take part in and everyone is eager for feedback and participation. Though it was still mostly a sausage-fest, it was good to see a number of women in the audience. I was also pleasantly surprised by the range of ages represented.”
  • Paul Biggs “Startupalooza and #drunkgeeking”
    “While I very much enjoyed learning about some really cool new projects in PDX, as is the case with most structured events, the most rewarding part for me was all the side conversations buzzing in hallways and nearby bars. It’s all about the people!”
  • Gabriel Aldamiz-echevarria “Taste sharing for web personalization”
    “So when we were asked to talk at Startupalooza (a really cool Portland tech event, put together by Todd Kenefsky and the Legion of Tech) we decided this should be the topic of our talk: taste sharing for web personalization… something which is of extreme importance for MyStrands and the entire recommender industry.”
  • John Poelstra “Superb Startupalooza”
    “Of late I’ve been trying to get more involved in the local tech scene where I live. On Saturday I went to check out Startupalooza and had no idea what to expect. It was superb in every respect. The facilities at CubeSpace were great and all the presentations and speakers were excellent. I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing!”
  • Joanna Kane “Startupalooza a high-tech hit”
    “The crowd in attendance ranged from those with decade-long entrepreneurial careers to wide-eyed observers hoping to absorb tips and tools to get their new ideas off the ground. The energy in the room was palpable, conversations were animated, and new ideas were being generated as fast as they were being shared. If I had to pick one theme for the day, it would be the common interest in making life easier through technology, coupled with making technology accessible for anybody and everybody.”
  • Flickr photos tagged “Startupalooza” (Please note, Aaron Hockley was hauling around two rigs for 7 hours, snapping almost 400 shots. It’s going to take a little while for him to comb through them, but they’re coming.)

If you missed the event, Legion of Tech was working to record the entire thing. Hopefully, we’ll all soon be able to have a listen, post processing. I, for one, am curious as to what I actually said while I was up there.

Startupalooza: Join fellow startups to compare notes

Anecdotally, I can tell you that there’s a great deal of interest in startups around Portland. But sometimes, it’s difficult to put a finger on just how many people are interested.

Until events like Startupalooza come along. And then that fuzzy “level of interest” becomes exceedingly obvious.

How obvious? Well, the event, like Legion of Tech‘s Ignite Portland events, currently ranks among the most popular events on Upcoming. And not just in Portland. On Upcoming. Period.

And with good reason. Startupalooza’s list of presenters reads like a who’s who of current and former Silicon Forest startups.

Companies and products on the docket include:

But wait, there’s more.

Sarah Gilbert, Marshall Kirkpatrick [Update: Just received word that Marshall will be unable to attend.], Justin Kistner, and I will be there on a “technopreneur” Q&A panel, as well.

I know, I know. I struggle to fathom how we’re going to squeeze all of this into one afternoon. But why not show up and see if we can? And then, plan to stick around. Word around the campfire is that there might be one or two after-event activities happening, as well.

Startupalooza begins at noon on Saturday, March 29, at CubeSpace. To RSVP, visit Startupalooza on Upcoming. For more information, see Startupalooza.

Still need more to do this weekend? You’re in luck, my friend. Go ahead, don’t be shy. Get your geek on.

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