entrepreneurship, Microsoft, Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good, Portland, Seattle, User Generated Book Tour, Web/Tech

UGBT: Seattle-Portland De-Co

So it's been almost about a week since I flew back from my Pacific Northwest UGBT extravaganza. I was thoroughly exhausted from five days of very late night conversations, keynote planning and, then last minute replanning, and consuming my share of the Edgewater's entire trove of Kenwood Cabernet. (Brian Solis: I blame you for the early morning headaches!)

I've blogged less about the stops than previous ones, partially because I met fewer local entrepreneurs than past stops. I only did one event in each city and the turnout was smaller than previous stops. And while I was in Seattle for several days, most of it was spent at Gnomedex where I hung out with many entrepreneurs not from Seattle. So all-in-all, it was a blast, but I'm not sure I got the same local flavor I've gotten from DC, Omaha and Des Moines. Of course that just means I HAVE to go back! Right?

So, for now, take these thoughts with a grain of salt, and feel free to jump in and tell me why I'm wrong. ;)

Seattle reminded me of D.C. Only it's not a city with one web/tech powerhouse (AOL), it's a city with both Microsoft and Amazon. In short Seattle has twice proved it can birth a major tech powerhouse. Proving you have a culture that continually gives birth to tech startups is another matter, and that's usually where the critique of Seattle comes in.

Remember that list I made of the ingredients you need to give rise to a culture of entrepreneurship? One of them was big successful tech companies that a highly skilled workforce can spin off from. Seattle clearly has that. Seattle also has above average access to capital. There are a good number of local VC firms, although I hear mixed results about their performance. Thanks to Microsoft and Seattle, there should be a nice base of angel investors as well. Seattle also has the attention of enough Valley firms that a good company raising money shouldn't be much of a challenge.

Culture of risk taking? That one I'm not sure about. Like AOL in DC, the people who work at Microsoft and Amazon are probably in pretty comfortable jobs. It's unclear how much any kind of entrepreneurial DNA there is that will really cause people to spin out and take a risk on something new. Seattle may have more to prove than other cities because it's had enough success, the expectations are higher. Is the startup crop living up to that? I couldn't tell in one visit, so you tell me in the comments.

Portland reminded me of Omaha. It's an richly creative city and an incredibly unique city; a city that knows who it is and is proud of it. But Portland isn't known for classic Warren Buffet-style entrepreneurship the way Omaha is. Its biggest advantages are the universities and the non-conformist take on life. Did I mention Olivia and I hitched a ride from Seattle to Portland on Iterasi's "magic bus"? Also, Portland is absolutely littered with ex-San Franciscans. PDXers likely have the cultural DNA to "get" the Valley, although like Seattle, the question of whether that turns into companies is another issue. (Someone at the Tweet-Up pointed out that there are also one of the largest concentrations of Pagans in Oregon and Pagans tend to be geeks. That's one advantage I hadn't thought about! Should it be added to the list?)

One guy I met at the Portland event said he was fed up with a scene filled with a lot of talk-- not much action. That's certainly a concern I'm hearing in a lot of the cities I'm visiting. I'm more familiar with Portland's art scene than tech scene. It's one of the most supportive communities of artists in terms of galleries and shows at alternative spaces and even mentorship. But most artists I know in Portland, tend to actually sell more work elsewhere. Are there similarities with startups? In other words, are smart creative types spawned that eventually have to leave Portland to get serious?

In short: I guess I grade Seattle and Portland on a harsher scale, because they have so many natural advantages. Both cities are close enough to the Valley that there's a lot of cross-pollination of talent and money available. And, as noted before, Seattle has already proven it can be the home to two of the largest tech behemoths, which came out of two different waves of innovation. I'm blanking on another city outside the Valley that can claim that.

I always talk about the human routers in the scenes, as they're the crucial social glue in any community of entrepreneurship. If you're starting something cool and you don't know these people, you should. If you're passing thought the Pacific Northwest, you should give them a shout, too. Danielle Morrill helped us organize the Seattle Tweet-Up and hung out throughout Gnomedex. She also knows every late night diner in Seattle. Danielle has a lot of natural enthusiasm about Seattle and its tech scene and the city is lucky to have her. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Chris and Ponzi Pirillo, our Gnomedex hosts, who put on an absolutely amazing conference, bringing an eclectic mix of tech thinkers and other thinkers using tech to the city. That's a huge annual commitment to making your city a better tech hot bed. Chris and Ponzi absolutely get community and are just genuinely nice people. In Portland we were entertained by the famous "Geeky Girl Dawn" and Rick "Silicon Florist" Turoczy-- not to mention all those folks from the "Magic Bus." Also, Portland gets super points for coming out for a Sunday Tweet-up that got moved at the last minute and was in the wake of the exhausting Gnomedex. THAT was impressive.

Fun? Well, that's a lot easier to answer. As you'll see from upcoming photos and videos, Olivia and I certainly had plenty of fun. Olivia had so much fun, she stayed in Portland for a few weeks to work remotely, so expect more wise Portland-themed posts from her.


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Srah Lacy

Sarah Lacy is an award-winning reporter who has covered high-growth entrepreneurship for more than fifteen years. She is the founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of PandoDaily.com, the site-of-record for the startup ecosystem. She lives in San Francisco.

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