Rick Turoczy is the curator for TechfestNW. He’s also one of the biggest driving forces behind the success of Portland’s growing startup community. The 42-year-old former literary agent and marketing guru has been chronicling the scene for years with his Silicon Florist blog, and in more recent years he’s headed up the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE), an incubator at ad agency Wieden + Kennedy that gives budding startups seed money, office space and connections to a network of mentors. Turoczy spoke with WW about the Portland tech scene.
Why does TechfestNW exist?
Portland is rapidly becoming recognized as one of the leading startup scenes in the nation. TFNW is designed to celebrate the ethos of the Portland startup scene and shine a spotlight on our local talent while attracting interesting speakers to town who reflect Portland ideals.
What do you think is the next proving ground for Portland tech?
Where Portland really has the opportunity to excel is in user experience—be that a phone application, Web application or a wearable piece of computing. Portland at its core and culture has a deep empathy for understanding how people want to engage with things. That’s what drives the craft culture as well. These hand-wrought crafted things that we appreciate are the same thing people are doing with technology.
The Bay Area may be driven by the wealth that can be created and that competitive nature of, “How can I do better than the person next to me?” Portland’s almost the converse. “How do I get people to love what I’m doing?”
Is Portland too interested in lifestyle to succeed as a tech town? San Francisco works 100-hour weeks.
I think Portland is finally over trying to be the next Bay Area or the next Seattle. Which is awesome. This new generation of Portland companies is finding its way to success while remaining true to an underlying Portland culture.
Startups like Simple and Treehouse—who could choose to headquarter anywhere—decided to relocate to Portland specifically because of our lifestyle. What was once perceived as a detriment to our startup scene has become one of our greatest assets.
Is there less money floating around here to fund companies?
In the first quarter of this year, Oregon raised more venture capital than Washington for the first time in years. Jama—already a going concern with 600 customers—just landed $13 million in venture capital from Trinity and Madrona. Companies like Cloudability, Chirpify and Orchestrate are demonstrating that even our younger startups are able to attract capital from outside of the area. And local investment groups like the Oregon Angel Fund and OEN’s Angel Oregon are participating more and more in tech.
You can never have enough access to capital. But that access has become less and less of an issue around here. It takes less and less money to run a company these days. People don’t have to build infrastructure from scratch anymore. Where we—and everyone else—are hurting is development talent.
What were the biggest lessons you gleaned from the dot-com bust?
There has to be a market there. No matter how good your idea and no matter how much you believe in it, there has to be somebody that’s willing to pay for it if it’s actually going to succeed.
Today the thing that intrigues me the most is how very niche-focused products can develop into very sustainable and meaningful businesses, because of the sheer girth of people online. We had a company that came out of PIE focused on people that follow the paleo diet [a diet meant to mimic the diet of cavemen].
Is that an important part of the vetting process for PIE startups—a saleable product?
A lot of our focus at PIE is on the team dynamic. Would these people make good entrepreneurs? Are they coachable? Do they seem to be able to take feedback and translate [it] into action? Sometimes we’ll pick teams where we’re not even sure about their business idea. We just like the team and think they’re capable of doing something. We’re making our bets on people, more than business ideas.
Tickets and official site: techfestnw.com