These two phrases were emblazoned across the mirror of the women’s bathroom in a karaoke bar in Portland, and from my brief foray to the Rose City for the Portland Digital eXperience (PDX) conference, they embody the spirit of both the event and the community. Overflowing with grit and passion, this ethos is tattooed on the city’s tech startup scene.
PDX, a two-day series of TED-meets-SXSW talks, kicked off with a party at a renovated World War II ship-building factory. Guests were provided extra-strong band-name-inspired drinks, porta potties, and a killer DJ-fueled soundtrack for the evening. It set the tone for the conference as well as the mid-day average arrival time of its attendees. In keeping with an underlying conference theme of doing what you love, here are my top six take-aways and raves from the event:
• “Building brand is building trust. Be human and admit when you make mistakes. Just look at our Twitter feed: we sound like real people.” — Josh Relch, Simple. Humility, humanity, and authenticity go a long way.
• “I didn’t wake up one day and decide to disrupt the financial industry. We just kept iterating. First we asked, would people actually pay on Twitter? Yes. Then would companies transact on Twitter? Yes again. Now we have a platform play powering brands’ (and bands’) social commerce engines.” (paraphrasing Chris Teso, founder and CEO of Chirpify). Without invoking the magic “lean startup” phrase in his panel discussion, it’s clear that Chris and his team are living the dream, watching and testing customer behavior as they take their offering to the next level(s). If “incremental disruption” seems like an oxymoron, it’s only fitting for a city that’s intense in its laid back-ness.
• “We didn’t rent that disco ball, we own it.” It’s a lifestyle choice by Scott Kveton, co-founder and CEO of UrbanAirship and host of the best-stocked bar at the 23-stop startup crawl. Pictured here with his company namesake.
• Preferring the ‘classic’ humor of Don Rickles, keynote speaker Aaron Draplin hates Portlandia: “It’s not funny.” He also hates “hipsters dressed like Amish guys poaching wireless in expensive coffee shops,” Kid Rock, nose jobs, and stacked food. He loves sweatpants, Futura Bold (the underdog font), getting lost, color spectrums, and his mom. But the biggest take-away from this f-bomb dropping, trucker-hat wearing designer and creator of “Field Notes” was his advice to startups: do good work for good people, say yes more than you say no, and be thankful.
• “It’s on us.” Andrew McLaughlin, formerly of Tumblr, exhorting startups to respect privacy, fight for free speech, deliver new capabilities and reduce friction for collective action. This rallying cry for tech startups reflected another conference theme of the power of community (did you know Kickstarter provided more funding for arts projects than the National Endowment for the arts? True story.)
• Last but not least … I was truly stoked to have to wait in line for the women’s room at a tech conference.
Huge kudos to our neighbor to the south Rick Turoczy of Silicon Florist for his herculean efforts organizing this conference, putting on a great show, and turning out a terrifically diverse crowd. And thanks to the Rose City for inspiring this Emerald City girl, not just to consider more tattoos, but to do good work for good people.
Rebecca Lovell is chief business officer at GeekWire, and a longtime member of Seattle’s entrepreneurial community. She writes occasionally about startups in her column LovelLetters. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @Lovelletters.