PDC recently released the next instantiation of their State of the Software Market survey. It’s designed to dive deeper into their conversation with the software community.
For purposes of transparency, I thought it might be interesting to post my responses as an open response to the survey. Below are all of the questions and my responses. I don’t have the right ones – no one does. However, I hope that my responses might start a discussion that leads to something that might be considered a good response. It’s all very much a work in progress.
We’ve all had different experiences in this community. My favorite experiences have been at WhereCamp, Open Source Bridge and CubeSpace. Filling out this survey is a chance to create more of those experiences and get support for them. If this sounds good to you, respond to the PDC software survey.
This is PDC’s second interview in the process of identifying the tools needed to develop a thriving software cluster in the Portland region.
Their first survey in April had 280 respondents, and this survey seeks to validate some of the ideas that were shared. Software is one of only four clusters that the Portland Development Commission is focusing on, so our input on this topic will have a large impact on the PDC’s work.
Survey Questions and Responses
Portland’s many User Groups run independently. Managing logistics, promotions and funding takes a significant amount of time for their volunteer leadership. An idea that came from our first survey is to compile an inventory of available meeting spaces, a “best practices” document and identify interested sponsors.
Do you think this idea would help align the software cluster and allow it to be more successful?
Yes – this is a great idea!
Why do you think this idea has merit?
Because a lot of us, whether we work full-time or not, need a place where we can all meet up. When we went to CubeSpace, it was like coming home. No matter what happened during the day, we knew we could find at least a few events going on at night. The space does not need to be open during the day – the majority of events that happened at CubeSpace were events happening between 5-9Pm.
It was open and welcoming, and a place to meet friends and collaborators, old or new. In a place where a lot of people work by themselves, and a lot of people do not work at offices during the day, regular community interaction becomes very important.
Another idea we heard was the possibility of identifying flexible meet-up spaces for folks to gather and share ideas. This could augment existing co-working spaces in the city and provide a place for small groups to gather and explore new ideas together.
Do you think this concept of identifying flexible meet-up spaces would be a good idea to support our software community?
Why do you feel that this concept of flexible meet-up spaces is a good idea?
For the same reasons I stated before. There needs to be a space for people to meet, where meetings can be scheduled. A watering hole, so to speak, for ideas, collaboration and exchange.
Having a sponsored meeting spot open from 5-9Pm would not compete with any of the other daytime coworking spaces, as it would be an event space.
Another idea that came to the surface was to encourage the integration of these User Groups into the other parts of our community such as non-software corporations, government and schools. (example: a school technology lab could tap the expertise of a User Group for best practices in changing operating systems, etc.)Do you think such integration efforts would strengthen our software community?
Why do you think this type of integration is a good idea?
It’s an interesting idea, although I’m not clear on the details enough to have an opinion on this right now.
By the way, are you personally involved with a User Group?
What User Groups are you a part of?
I assume you are using the phrase ‘User Groups’ as a way of describing groups of people with interests related to certain types of technology, methods, or ideas.
In that case, these are the groups I’m involved in (or have been in the past).
- Geoloqi User Group (co-founder)
- Portland Data Viz Meetup (founder)
- CyborgCamp (founder)
- WhereCamp (volunteer, speaker)
- Refresh Portland (attendee)
- Wiki Wednesday (attendee)
- NTEN Nonprofit Technology Meetup (attendee)
- Webvisions (board member)
- Web Analytics Wednesday (attendee)
- Demolicious (attendee)
- CHIFOO (member)
- IxDA (steering committee)
I used to go to 2-3 group meetings a night, until CubeSpace closed.
How valuable are you finding this involvement in User Groups?
Why have you found User Groups valuable?
Knowledge is brought to life by people, and people are often difficult to find. User groups allow information to pollinate and multiply. It drastically speeds up the ability for one to get things done. When one tries something alone, it’s often easy to get stuck. When one is surrounded by users who are familiar with a system, help is never far away.
Do you have any other ideas about User Groups before we ask your opinion about the next topic of “Regional Resourcing”?
A number of people provided feedback about how we could take the resources we already have and become smarter about understanding and making use of them. For example, many wished they had a place to search for every local software company’s products or services. Some also wished they had a database of every gifted programmer in the region. For the purposes of the survey, we’ll call this “Regional Resourcing”.
In terms of its value, how would you rate this idea of a “Regional Resourcing” directory?
Why would such a “Regional Resourcing” directory be valuable?
It’s been attempted before, especially with sites like PRTLND.
An easy to use directory with community tagging capabilities would be useful, especially if it imported Twitter data and allowed one or others to fill into profile information, recommendations, etc., wiki-style.
Linkedin does this, but it’s not locally oriented.
In our last online conversation, 75% of those who did not have a mentoring relationship said that they would like to have one.
How valuable would it be to have a system that matches mentors with mentees to help with business issues? (for example: formation, planning, development, etc.)
Not very valuable
Why wouldn’t “mentorship matching” be valuable?
Well, if you think about it – having a community in place, with a place to have events, takes care of the mentorship idea. A community naturally has mentors and newbies. Those who contribute to a community get community support in the form of funding, reviews, and collaboration. Having a structured and stringent program might not be as effective as simply allowing it to happen and providing a space for it.
In our discussions, we have heard several concerns about the challenges associated with financing software companies. Depending on their experience, some have focused on a need for more VCs in Portland, others on the need for more Mezzanine funding sources and still others on unmet needs in Early Stage funding.
How important do you feel it is for our community to better address the financial needs of its software companies?
Why do you feel that we should better address the financial needs of software companies?
I don’t know if it’s simply the idea of bringing VC’s into Portland that would address the financial needs of software companies.
I think the key is to provide actual learning experiences or good managers for companies. A lot of great developers out there are very good at coding, but are quite inept at design or bringing products to market. The idea of the product lifecycle, or the need to market a product, is sometimes misunderstood.
Learning about business – and this means business planning, legal issues, taxes, business plans, and simplicity, are all things that are needed. VC’s that provide this would be nice, but startups also need to understand how to run startups on little to know funding at all. If they can turn a profit without having to go to VC’s, it’s all the more impressive.
Have you been a part of an effort to raise money for a company in the Portland region?
I raised money for GreenIt!, a renewable energy company I started with two colleages of mine during college. We raised two rounds of seed funding.
In your experience, what is the most difficult financing stage for a Portland-based software company?
Angel funding (less than $500k)
Please describe the challenges you faced in obtaining Angel Funding:
The amount of time it takes to obtain funding
Some have mentioned that we need to do a better job connecting start-up companies with “seed funders” (very early stage investors under $500k) in order to decrease the time that start-ups devote to raising necessary capital.
Do you feel that we need to develop better ways to connect start-ups with seed funders?
What are some ways the we might be able to build these networks of funding relationships?
- Building a matching database
- Streamlining the review process
- Having “speed dating” events
Before early-stage entrepreneurs can go to market, they must literally “prove the concepts” of their innovations. The work may entail developing a research technology further, perhaps to a working prototype, and/or studying markets to see if the business concept will fly.Developing a local “Proof of Concept Center” has been suggested as a way to provide this support through seed funding and expert assistance to help entrepreneurs prepare for the strongest market entry possible.
How valuable do you feel a Proof of Concept Center would be in the region?
Not very valuable
Why do you feel that a “Proof of Concept Center” might not be a good idea?
While a center like this could provide User testing, QA testing and focus groups that would not be available to an otherwise unconnected entrepreneur, this is something that naturally emerges from a community. Providing the place for community should still be the highest priority. A startup can have a meeting within that space that can act as a ‘Proof of Concept Center’.
Do you have any skills or resources that you would like to volunteer to help in the development of a community “Proof of Concept Center”?
Helping entrepreneurs to simplify their ideas and get their products to market.
Do you have any other ideas about how we can improve our investment climate for the software industry?
Have a clear guide to regulations, legalities, and process.
Starting a company is difficult. I had a lot of help starting a C corp because my team was part of a college. There was no business program, so the college president and his business development team helped us in securing funding, connecting us with attorneys and conferences. Without them, no progress could have been made.
Also, a focus on success stories here in Portland is essential. Patterns of development and best practices can be easily found if one interviews successful entrepreneurs here. Take, for example, Andy Baio, developer of Yahoo!’s Upcoming.org. There are many more of these stories. If a community has good role models and examples, they’ll be more likely to succeed.
Would you be interested in receiving the results of this survey and being invited to attend a discussion of the issues impacting our regions’ software industry?
Please let us know your contact information.
First name: Amber
Last name: Case
E-mail: caseorganic at gmail dot com
How would you describe the regional footprint of the company which provides your primary source of employment?
In addition to this company, are you involved with a side-project or projects?
Yes – I have several side projects
What is keeping you from building a side project into a full-time endeavor?
- Technology development
- More customers
- Investment capital
- Business strategy development
- Not interested in making this more than a side project
Other: It’s a tremendous liability to move to developing a company full time. Often it’s not the most intelligent choice, especially in a place like Portland. It’s far safer to keep it as a side-project while remaining fully employed. There aren’t a ton of customers in Portland either. One has to be able to connect nationally and internationally in order to make a blip outside of the Portland sphere. That’s not especially easy to do, no matter where one is.
Does the company that provides your primary source of employment develop software or provide services (legal, accounting, recruiting, etc.) to the software industry?
- Developing software
- Providing services
(Note: There was no way to choose both. Vertigo provides both types of services).
What type of services are you providing for the software industry?
- User Interface/Artistic Design
What position do you hold in the company?
(Note: They didn’t provide designer).
What was your company’s revenue last year? (if you have multiple side projects, please select your primary one)
I’d rather not say.
There’s still a lot to be done, and I need your help. Do you like the idea of a 5-9 meeting space as well? Let me know on Twitter, or in the comments below.
Amber Case, (@caseorganic) is a Cyborg Anthropologist and a happy member of the Portland Tech Community. She is happiest when surrounded by wonderful people sharing ideas.