Doing Business in Portland is Different, Not Weird

Ryan Buchanan

We’re different here in Portland. As Portland people, we’re fiercely independent, quirky, outdoorsy, mossbacks, who like our own local brands of beer, coffee, tea, Pinot Noir, spirits, donuts, ice cream, shoes, and apparel.

As people, we adopt the bumper sticker “Keep Portland Weird.” As Portland businesses, we aren’t weird. We’re just a little different. We are a dichotomy of goddamn independents and needy collaborators. We are wildly innovative because we like being different. While a few of our educated unemployed may have chosen this city that Portlandia has labeled “where young people go to retire”, Portland businesses are dreamers with drive. Portland businesses value work-life balance and flexibility, but we work our asses off to produce the very best in our niche industries known worldwide—restaurants, food, beverages, shoes, knives, golf courses, advertising + creative services.

David and Goliath

1. Portland business collaborate to drive innovation

A friend of mine, Kim Malek, moved back to Portland from working and living in big-company-mecca Seattle to follow her dream to start an ice cream shop. She started with a little food cart on NE Alberta Street and called it Salt and Straw. Within the first month, she had consistent hour-long lines to get ice cream and was covered in the New York Times. That early success snowballed into more press including Oprah’s new favorite ice cream and 2 ½ years later, people from all over the country wait in long lines in the WINTER in cold rain to eat their crazy-flavored ice cream. What’s all the rage about. In short, Salt and Straw has an authentic story around local collaboration with Oregon beer-makers, Portland chocolate-makers, Eugene dairy farmers, and innovative pairings like Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey ice cream that tasted oddly amazing. I shared a few more examples of innovation from Portland businesses in my previous blog post on “Portland – The Mecca for Craft.” It’s not just Portland startups that are collaborating. A couple years ago, fifty year-old Gerber Legendary Knives reached out to “reality tv” star Bear Grylls to launch a new knife and sales shot through the roof. The company has now created 40+ products in its Gerber Bear Grylls Survival product suite. At the mega-company level, Portland-based Nike has built off of its astounding Nike+ success with its collaboration with Apple.

Bears Grylls Survival Knife

2. Portland entrepreneurs + business owners help each other overcome challenges

We all need a coach for different parts of our life. This absolutely applies to business owners and entrepreneurs. We get stuck in certain patterns that prevent us from seeing a problem differently. We often prevent ourselves from growing. Coaches or mentors are helpful guides to see around the curve to reach blue ocean. There are several organizations that do an incredible job with peer mentoring for their niche:
Entrepreneurs Organization – Portland: EO Portland is a place where you can share the good, the bad, and the ugly with other entrepreneurs like you in a completely confidential atmosphere. 80 members in Portland with $1M+ businesses, over 10,000 members globally.
Starveups: This is a group of entrepreneurs with innovative start ups swinging for the fences.
Oregon Entrepreneurs Network: OEN is one of the largest entrepreneur networks of its kind in the US. Lots of events and training geared towards entrepreneurs across all industries.
Technology Association of Oregon: TAO provides great peer mentoring for executives in technology companies primarily based in Portland.
Portland Ad Federation: Hosts a monthly Agency Owner Round table for addressing the needs of creative + advertising agency business owners.
Additionally, there are some great incubators like PIE, TiE, and a few others.

3. Portland is a magnet for creative talent

Portland businesses are creative– no surprise to that observation. Let’s explore a few lesser-known examples of this great creative talent:
  • Steven Smith Tea-maker: Portland is lucky to have an entrepreneur like Steven Smith. He is easily the most talented tea-maker and tea business-maker in the US. This creative soul started Stash Tea then sold it. He then started Tazo Tea and sold it to Starbucks, and has now created the most decadent tea brand in the country called Smith Tea.
  • Nutcase Helmets: Portlanders can’t wear a mainstream helmet – we need something with a little more character. Michael Morrow created Nutcase to not only fit your head, but “suit your soul” as well.

Nutcase Helmets
Aviation Gin: this Portland company + product is both creative in its perfect balance of juniper, cardamom, and orange peel as well as making the consumer of this fine beverage far more creative.
Aviation Gin

4. What will the world notice about Portland businesses by end of 2014?

There is a group of Portland business leaders who started and run an organization called Greater Portland Inc and it’s their mission to share “the faces of business” for the greater Portland region to the world to recruit new businesses to Portland and retain the growing businesses that we have here. I believe that the momentum we have in the Portland business community will attract a whole lot more businesses to do business here. Recent successes include locating 100 employees here, Mozilla Firefox growing its team here, and Daimler HQ adding 400 new jobs in Portland.

Faces of Business in Portland
Ryan Buchanan
Ryan Buchanan, CEO at eROI.