Posts Tagged ‘Portland’

First month as a start-up founder in Portland, OR

For those of you who don’t normally read this blog, about a month ago I moved from Lexington, MA (Yes, the famous shot heard around the world Lexington) to Portland, OR. I moved to Portland for a few reasons. My girlfriend lives here, my (now former) co-founder lives near Portland, I like the city, it has a small but growing tech scene, etc.This blog post is about my first month as start-up founder in Portland.

Getting plugged into the Portland Tech Scene
I knew coming from Boston that Portland’s start-up / tech scene would be significantly smaller. That is exactly why I wanted to come here. When I was in Boston, I went to a few networking events and met some awesome people, however, I was definitely a small fish in a big pond. Part of the appeal of Portland was that the pond in question is significantly smaller. Though I’m still a small fish, it has been significantly easier and more rewarding  to work with a smaller group of tech and start-up people. I’ll give you some examples:

a) I got to meet Rick Turoczy of the Silicon Florist and am currently helping him out with a few guest posts for the blog

b) Interviewed Darius Monsef IV, the founder of ColourLovers and YC Alum, for a Silicon Florist blog post. Also got to discuss TrekDek with him and received some great feedback (Thanks for backing my Kickstarter by the way).

c) Attended the launch event for the Portland Seed Fund and got to talk with one of the fund managers, Angela Jackson, for a bit. Oh yea, apply by May 31 if you want to be considered for the summer class.

d) Met some fantastic entrepreneurs and start-up founders, including Jason Glaspey, the current Product Manager at Urban Airship, PeeKay Chan from the soon to be launched HubGenie, and Sean Keener and Riel Manriquez from BootsnAll.

When I arrived in Portland I deliberately sought out people heavily involved in the Portland start-up scene. What I didn’t expect was how friendly and welcoming they all were. I pretty much cold-emailed everyone and they were all happy (I think) to meetup for coffee and chat for a bit. I am extremely appreciative of all the people that I’ve met here. Though its possible that tech peeps are just a friendly bunch no matter where they are, I really believe the laid back Portland vibe has something to do with it. In Boston, most of the entrepreneurs and investor types I met were very friendly, but it was a different mind-set all together. It might just be a function of the size of the tech crowd, but I think its also a city culture thing. I would love to read a blog post comparing Portland to Silicon Valley.

Finding a co-founder in Portland

When I arrived in Portland, I had a co-founder. Unfortunately for me, it turned out that he was too busy to take on that co-founder role. He was busy managing his own software that he licenses out as well as several rental properties that he owns. C’est la vie. No hurt feelings or anything but that put me in the position of having to find another tech co-founder.

Progress to date? Several leads but haven’t found one yet. The most promising leads have actually resulted from non-tech related activities. I went to a few Meetups. One was a travel group and the other was a Portland New In Town book club meetup. It just happened that there were a few coders in both groups that liked the concept and seemed fairly interested, but those conversations are stills taking place.

Most of the coders that I’ve met through tech related activities have also been interested in the concept, but it seems as if they are all happy doing consulting work and working on some side projects. I don’t know how this compares to the valley, but that seems kind of Portland like as well. There is definitely an emphasis on “just enough success” and working to live. Though frustrating for someone looking for a co-founder, its great from a lifestyle perspective.

I think I may have to change my approach quite a bit. Suggestions?
The roller-coaster emotions of being an entrepeneur

My personal experience in this area seems to be fairly typical. Most of the time I’m fairly optimistic. My happiness is highly correlated with discover different possibilities for the project, meeting other entrepreneurs, and making incremental progress on the project. The severe semi-frequent depression is highly correlated with mean hacker news comments (amazing how affected I am by anonymous feedback), perception that the project is not progressing and you can’t do anything about it, and the occasional glance at my dwindling bank account. Overall though I think it helps to be in Portland in both cases. When you’re happy, you feel so lucky that you’re in a great city with lots of natural beauty around it. When you’re bummed, well, you’re still bummed but at least you’re still in a great city with lots of natural beauty around it. Boston is a little too much city and not enough nature for the emotional ups and downs of a start-up founder.

Job Search

There’s a certain piece of advice that Portlanders give people thinking about moving to Portland. It is BYOJ, or Bring Your Own Job. Indeed that seems to be the case here. Granted, I haven’t been trying very hard to get a job, but I’m also trying not to end up in a job where I will want to throw myself off the Burnside bridge. I even wrote a blog post about one of my job interviews at a law firm. This may not be a realistic attitude, as I either have to start generating revenue or be homeless. Lame. If anyone reading this post knows about any start-up jobs for non coder positions let me know.

Concluding thoughts

If you want to start a start-up in Portland, I think its a great place to do it. If you want to raise some serious funding, you’ll probably have to leave. But, in the early pre-launch stages, I don’t think you can beat the lifestyle or the culture of Portland. I imagine that the most ideal scenario (other than having funding) is having a part-time job that pays the bills while you work on your start-up. Working part time here is something that is celebrated so no worries about being shunned.




State of flow in a Portland coffee shop

Erica and I drove down from Victoria to Portland with her dad two days ago and we found ourselves sitting at a quintessential Portland pizza place called Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty. It was Portland in that it was low key, but the food was a bit full of itself. For example, Salami was called Saluni. Still delicious though.

Joining us was Erica’s twin sister Chloe, and her boyfriend Kevin. Kevin is a potential Trekdek co-founder that I’ve been bouncing ideas off. We only recently began talking about his role in Trekdek during my last few weeks in Egypt. It was difficult to stay in touch in the midst of an internet outage in Egypt and my beach hopping in Thailand, but we finally got the chance to sit down and chat in person

There were 5 people at the table. For my purpose, it might as well been just Kevin and I. We immediately begin to talk about the potential for Trekdek and how it could become the next billion dollar business (I never said we were realistic). Though it was bad table manners, I pretty much ended up ignoring everybody else. I only ended up saying a few words to them, “Could you pass the saluni?”

The next day I met with the founder of Supportland a Portland based startup that is replacing the punch card with a common swipe card that could be used at multiple businesses. It is pretty cool stuff. Why was I meeting with him? Well, Kevin is also working at Supportland and Michael was initially worried about a conflict of interest. However, that was about 5% of the conversation. The other 95% was talking about start-ups, Trekdek, Supportland, investment strategies, travel, and how work sucks. It was pretty awesome. Again, I didn’t notice anyone else hanging out at Albina Street Cafe.

The most trusted source on the Internet, Wikipedia, defines flow as
“completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.”

I achieved this state of flow twice within 48 hours of arriving in Portland. I rarely achieved that state of flow while teaching or working in a government office. The state of flow is the exact opposite of the mind-numbing work performed a la Office Space. Richard Florida, an economist who wrote The Rise of the Creative Class, believes the new economy is divided between the creative class (engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, small business owners, etc) and the non-creative class (service and factory workers, office admin people, etc). The creative class tends to be happier, live in nice places, and generally earn more money. The non-creative class are engaged in lower paying menial work. It is this transition to the creative economy that is exacerbating the huge income inequality that is currently prevailing in the US. Florida believes the solution is to turn these non-creative class jobs into creative ones.

I fully believe this to be true and many companies, at least in theory, are trying to empower their employees and letting them exercise their creative faculties to the benefit of the company and the employees. The employees create additional value for the company, and in general, the employees are happier for it and in theory, are better compensated. Even Subway has acknowledged this idea by calling their employees “Sandwich Artists.” Whether or not Subway employees are actually encouraged to employ their creative faculties is another story, but at least they are on the right track.

Sometimes I wonder if its possible to trace back all happiness to the state of flow. Maybe eating dinner with family encourages a state of flow. Maybe religion is a means of channeling spiritual flow. Maybe political rallies, concerts, and football games foster a collective flow. It is Avatar’s “aiwa” and Buddhism’s Nirvana. It is Einstein’s eureka and and Thoureau’s Walden. It is perhaps the Portland coffee shop.