PIE PDX Demo Day shows why Portland will continue to be a startup powerhouse
If you haven’t heard of the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE PDX) yet, you probably will soon enough. It is a phenomenal institution, and numerous companies, from Urban Airship to Simple to yours truly, have benefited enormously from their association with PIE PDX. In an extremely short period of time, it has become a pillar of the Portland startup tech scene.
In our case, we benefited from having our offices at PIE PDX back when we were a fledgling startup called PHP Fog with just a handful of employees. Hard to believe now, but our company once consisted of founder Lucas Carlson and a scrappy coterie of developers sharing a single table in PIE PDX’s shared office space. This is a story that we share with many others. PIE began as a space for meeting up and sharing space (and the occasional keg) and eventually, under the leadership of Rick Turoczy and Renny Gleeson, because a full-fledged startup incubator, offering funding to the most promising startups in each “class” and a strong mentor network.
PIE PDX Demo Day, or, why this year’s class is looking strong
On Friday, October 5th, PIE PDX held its second-ever Demo Day. This event is an opportunity for the incoming startup “class,” which resided at PIE PDX from July until October, to tell the world what it’s up to, how it seeks to shake up the technology world, and why PIE PDX was right to pick them from the many promising applicants. All of them made very compelling cases. If you want to see the pitches from all of the companies, I strongly recommend watching the full video on LiveStream. Here, I’ll talk about the organizations that I, personally, was most excited about. This doesn’t mean they are the “best” companies or that my employer (AppFog) is endorsing them. But I loved them!
Once upon a time, PIE PDX had yet to invite a non-profit organization into the fold. And then they met Code Scouts, an organization attempting to get more women involved in software development.
The problem, according to Code Scouts, is twofold: on one hand, it is often difficult for up-and-coming female developers to receive proper training and job hunting help, and on the other hand, it is often difficult for them to get solid advice on what they should specialize in. Institutions like dev bootcamps are great, but it’s often difficult to set aside 3 months and a handsome chunk of change to attend one. Code Scouts seeks to remedy both of these problems.
In her presentation, founder Michelle Rowley (also the highly effective leader of PDX Python) pointed out that in the tech world in the U.S. only 18% of developers are women, while women account for only 5% of tech founders are women and a minuscule 1.5% of open source contributors. Code Scouts wants to combat this by assembling a small army of volunteers to teach a variety of skills via hands-on projects organized into paths (web dev vs. mobile app dev vs. desktop game dev vs. others).
Getting mobile right is hard. One of the most difficult problems is that there are simply so many devices. For a massive company, testing apps on all available platforms by buying dozens if not hundreds of mobile devices might not be a huge deal. But if you’re a smaller company, this kind of thoroughness simply isn’t in the cards or the budget. And even if you are a larger enterprise, it’s hard to imagine a worse use of your resources if there are better alternatives available.
The beauty of AppThwack is that they are precisely that alternative. These former Intel employees buy up just about every conceivable mobile device in the marketplace and run custom tests on any and all of them and get test results back in minutes.
Just imagine: you have an app that seems to work beautifully on Nexus 6, but customers are telling you that it works abysmally on Nexus 7. One thing you could do: go out and buy both devices and run a bunch of tests in house and attempt to get to the bottom of the problem, incurring all kinds of resource penalties along the way. Or you could have AppThwack run customized tests for you and get error logs and analytics back almost immediately (and even screenshots if you wish). My gut is telling me to opt for the latter.
AppThwack has chosen to begin with support for Android app testing only. This has been so successful that passing AppThwack’s battery of tests is now mandatory for every Firefox for Android app release, which is a strong testament to the credibility that AppThwack has already begun garnering in the app-testing domain.
Soon, they’ll be expanding beyond Android into iPhone testing and beyond. AppThwack is not alone in the mobile app testing space, but I’d be willing to bet that they’ll be the industry standard in a few years.
Cloud analytics is really beginning to catch fire right now. Companies like NewRelic, StatsMix, Keen.io, and others are doing really impressive things. Lytics.io is poised to make a big impact in this space for a variety of reasons that they made very clear in their talk.
What sets Lytics apart is that it is building a system for combining all of the following:
1. Event-level data collection that is cross-platform and can come from just about any source
2. Event stream analysis, which aggregates that data and delivers an analytics dashboard and visualization tools and a customizable query engine for that data
3. All of this can be combined into a single stream, be it at the application level, the company level, or something else
4. CRM-ready user profiles, customized reports, and a variety of other features that are useful on the side of actual business decision making.
Lytics has the potential to be something like an all-encompassing SaaS data platform. All companies would love to have such a compelling catch-all option, but they all-too-often end up having to re-invent the wheel on their own.
For co-founder Aaron Raddon, who delivered Lytics’ presentation, companies are misusing their resources if they’re building their analytics infrastructure from scratch (not to mention that companies can get it wrong). What companies need instead is an API-driven service that enables them to translate vast swathes of data into manageable–and readable–output.
On top of that, Raddon has told me that the current goal is to give customers the ability to actually customize the user-facing API using another API. As we know, APIs are typically constructed in a way that says “Okay, developers. Here’s how it works. Happy coding!” Enabling enterprise end users to actually have a say in how the API is constructed strikes me as an incredibly solid move on Lytics’ part.
Lytics puts it very succinctly: “Every data point is a new opportunity.” This could well be the mantra for a lot of analytics startups, but Lytics strikes me as better poised than many others to be a powerhouse in this space.
With heavy hitters like Instagram, Facebook, and the other usual suspects, the social media/content-sharing space often feels like it’s too crowded to allow new, disruptive entrants. But Stublisher has a chance, I think, to show that there’s still a lot of room for fresh ideas and new players.
As it stands, tons of data is already being produced in conjunction with events of all kinds, from concerts to conferences to sporting events to block parties. Stublisher is a platform that siphons up vast amounts of data of varying types that is produced during and at those events and unites it into a single flow of information that is accessibly to end users. Stublisher makes this happen via a practice of digital geofencing. Digital geofencing essentially isolates a particular geographical area and time period associated with an event and gathers the media content produced within that space/time “fence.”
Right now, they’re hooked up primarily to the Instagram API for content, but they plan on adding other API linkages in the future in the name of constructing a more comprehensive platform. Their ultimate goal is to go beyond relying on other social media outlets’ APIs and to become an independent social media platform in their own right.
As it stands, social media giants like Facebook tend to link people together based on shared “likes.” Stublisher wants to link people together based on shared experiences. As co-founder Kyle Bañuelos puts it, “We’re trying to do for events what Wikipedia did for knowledge.” Basically, if I go and see Carly Rae Jepsen at the Portland Rose Garden with my co-worker Alex Parkinson (which is actually a far-from-unthinkable scenario) tomorrow night, I might want to check in the next day and see how others experienced it, what they wrote, what they took pictures of, and what they captured on video. I might randomly see pictures of myself or my friends, see sides of the event that I never could have anticipated, and incorporate those same inputs into my total memory of the event.
What I loved about Demo Day is that all of the companies have a very well-defined sense of purpose. Nobody came on and said that they were going to change the world, and no one said anything about having aspirations to topple this or that giant. Instead, all of them have identified a gap in the current tech landscape and are seeking to provide valuable services to fill in those gaps.
My overall feeling from the day is that I’m more proud than ever to be part of the Portland tech scene. I’ve written about this a bit in the past, but it deserves to be said again: you simply have to get over and see what’s going on as soon as you can. And maybe stay for the rest of your life.
Quick final note: the next application window is opening up on March 1st, 2013. If you’re a startup that wants to spend three months at PIE PDX guided by a variety of mentors and using their office, you should seriously consider putting time into an application.