Silicon Florist Fertilizes Portland Startups

On August 7, Silicon Florist celebrated seven years of informing readers about Portland, Ore. startup companies.

Silicon Florist began at the intersection of disappointment and excitement. Rick Turoczy felt dismayed by the lack of attention given to startups from local publications, including the Oregonian and the Portland Business Journal. Yet he was enthusiastic that, “these early stage startups would be able to do more with less capital than they had in the past.”

Portland is largely overshadowed by the attention given to San Francisco and Seattle. As Urban Airship co-founder and CEO Scott Kveton said, “We didn’t get a Yahoo or an Amazon or a Google,” and Turoczy became “the megaphone for all the cool things that are happening“ and grew his reputation because he will “talk to anybody, which is great.”

While there is advertising on Silicon Florist, it is minimal. There are no automated ads littering Silicon Florist. Like many things in Portland, advertising is locally sourced. When measured monetarily, Silicon Florist has never provided Rick enough to live off of. However, it has given him plenty of other capital.

In 2009 Turoczy joined forces with Renny Gleeson, Scott Kveton, and Jason Glaspey to create the Portland Incubator Experiment, commonly referred to as PIE.

Since then, Glaspey says “we’ve seen Portland really mature and become a big startup city.” This has included “home grown start-ups like Urban Airship and Puppet” that have helped place Portland on the map of the Venture Capitalist community.

Since PIE launched, companies also started moving to Portland. This includes Cozy, which Glaspey says began in San Francisco before opening a Portland office and migrating their employees there.

Being in PIE and working alongside Turoczy helped Kveton grow Urban Airship. He says potential employees will remark that they’ve been reading about Urban Airship in Silicon Florist for years. That is “really cool because talent is one of the hardest things to attract and retain in a high tech startup.”

Justin Thiele moved to Portland in 2009, shortly before PIE opened. He quickly became a co-founder for a company called Mugasha, which started at a Portland Startup Weekend event. Once PIE opened up, there was desk space for Mugasha. Over time, Thiele says PIE “basically became the hub for Portland tech, everybody came through there and everyone was working out of there at some point.”

“Rick’s influence is his ability to bring people together and foster the community,” and “PIE has basically turbo charged his ability to do that,” Thiele said. “It’s easier for a start-up in Portland today than it was six years ago.”

The only downside, according to Kveton, is that he sees Turoczy less often since Urban Airship moved out of PIE a few years ago. They were able to connect at the SXSW conference in March. Kveton said “it’s funny that we all have to get together in Austin for a Portland meet up, but everyone is so busy and things are going so well that we don’t find the time.”

A few years ago SXSW asked Turoczy to be on the SXSW Accelerator Advisory Board. His SXSW profile simply states, “Obsessed with Portland.”

Last year Turoczy spoke at the Inbound conference, where he presented “The Power of Humility.” His roughly ten minute talk is on YouTube and includes a reference to Portlandia, a sketch comedy television show on IFC. He calls Portland “aggressively humble,” and says “the only time we’ll brag about our town is when someone is making fun of it.”

Glaspey points out that in “San Francisco people are whispering to each other, trying to keep secrets. That is not the case in Portland where someone may overhear a conversation in a coffee shop, lean over and offer help or make an introduction.”

Glaspey says Turoczy reflects that mentality. “As the unofficial startup ambassador of Portland, he represents it perfectly,” and that “it’s no question why Rick has become who Rick is because he holds those beliefs very sincerely and authentically, and you can’t read Silicon Florist without recognizing them.“

Turoczy developed what he calls the “inverse log of blogging. The more time you put into a post the less people will actually read it.”

Turoczy maintains that he is not an objective voice about Portland’s startup scene. He wants to focus on the successes, and he built Silicon Florist in order to champion them by “highlighting what seems to be working and what’s compelling about the effort.”

“To be quite frank, I’ve been an entrepreneur.” Turoczy said. “I’ve been in startups, I know how hard it is, and sometimes you just don’t need to be beat up again about what’s wrong with your product, sometimes it’s just nice to hear the positive aspects of what you’re doing.“

Turoczy says his goal is to see “how quickly I can get people off my site” by sending them “to where this stuff is actually happening.”

Glaspey said, “Rick knows what the difference between journalism and cheerleading is, and he’s always said, ‘I’m not a journalist, I’m a cheerleader. I celebrate, I’m biased, I promote. I’m not trying to uncover a juicy story.’”

Turoczy “is donating a significant portion of his life to help other people,” Glaspey said. “I also don’t mean to idolize Rick. He’s a guy. He’s got his own shit. He’s a normal person. But he is pretty committed to this community and it’s amazing.”

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