Why Indie Developers Should Check Out Portland

According to this article from Freelancers Union, Portland is the most freelancer friendly city in the country. This statistic1 in particular kind of blew me away:

The Portland community has more “micro-entrepreneurs” per capita than any other city in the country. According to ESRI Business Analyst (cited by Portland Development Commission, there are 5,287 “small firms” per 100,000 residents in Portland, the highest in the country, beating even Seattle and Austin. Entrepreneur Magazine named Portland one of the top cities for entrepreneurs.

For app makers who are or want to go indie, Portland also has some pretty great benefits that don’t get mentioned in the article.

Quality of Life

Do you remember the 90′s? People were talking about getting piercings and tribal tattoos, people were singing about saving the planet and forming bands. There’s a place where that idea still exists as a reality, and I’ve been there.

If the idea of living in a place where you can ride a bike or walk instead of driving a car, be in close proximity to the best coffee shops and microbreweries in the country and travel to the beach or mountains within an hour, Portland may appeal to you. As a bike riding vegan2, I have to say that I am definitely in the right demographic for those things to appeal to me, but I don’t think you need to be a special little snowflake like me to enjoy it here.

I also like that I can almost always shop at a local business to find what you need without going out of my way. To be completely honest, I couldn’t tell you how to get to a strip-mall if I needed to. Near my house there’s a local coffee shop, Mexican food restaurant, clothing store and seafood place all next to each other. I like to joke if this were anywhere else in the country that might be a Starbucks, Chipotle, Gap and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co3. You can still find those things if you want to, but I like that what’s in my face most of of the time are locally owned places instead of the chains I could find in any other city in the country. Our biggest chain grocery store is even local (and also possibly the best grocery store in the world).

I could go on. But if you like local music, farmers markets, and living in a safe place while still having the advantages of a big city, there’s a lot here for you. If you have a unique hobby (knitting, canning, vegan body building) and would like to find other people to enjoy it with, you can probably find them here.

Cost of Living

Even though with Portland as trendy as it is, the cost of living has stayed low. For example, the median home price here is $232,900 (compared to $543,800 in San Francisco), and browsing on Craigslist I can find 900 sq. ft apartments in a cool part of town for under $1000/month. There’s also no sales tax in Oregon, which is great for a couple of reasons. First, it makes things cheaper, but second it encourages people to support local businesses (which there are a ton of).

Living in a place where you don’t have to compromise between quality of life and cost of living is great as someone who’s independent. It means that if you’re doing freelance work and want to take a couple of months off to write your own app, you can afford to do that, and that if you want to live off of selling your own products, the amount they need to generate to get you there is a lot less.

Last year I was able to mostly focus on putting out updates for Pinbook for a few months, and I don’t think that would have been possible had I lived in a place where my rent was higher and I had to pay for a car every month just to get around.

Close to San Francisco and Seattle

Since my company is in San Francisco, and also things like also things like WWDC and Macworld happen there, I travel to the Bay Area a lot. I also have a lot of friends in Seattle who I like to see whenever possible. From Portland, a flight to San Francisco takes around an hour and a half (there’s also a train to the airport, so getting there is easy), and if you’re not buying at the last minute the price is almost always less than $180. If I want to go to a Seattle Xcoders meet up — or just to visit friends for fun or go to a concert — I can take Amtrack (which has Wi-Fi and a dining car) for about $45 each way, or Bolt Bus (also has power and Wi-Fi) for about $11-22 and be in downtown Seattle in less than three hours.

About the Weather

It does rain a lot here, but I would describe the weather as pretty temperate. The coldest it’s ever likely to get is into the thirties, and in the summer I can’t remember a lot of unbearable 100°F days like when I lived in Sacramento. I’d describe the usual rain here as more of a drizzle. It doesn’t often rain terribly hard, just a little a lot of the time. The other thing no one tells you about about the weather here is that the summers are amazing. June through September you’re in the best city to ride a bike in the country and it’s beautiful out. For comparison, because we’re further north it stays light out about 30 minutes longer than in Northern California in the summer.


I don’t know if the unique benefits of Portland Oregon would appeal to everyone. It’s a pretty progressive place, so conservative people (politically or socially) might not find it so amazing — although I could be wrong. If you think that it might appeal to you though, consider coming and checking it out. At the least, you can get some donuts and check out the world’s largest book store. If you’re looking for tips on when the best time to come is or what you should do while you’re here, go ahead and ask me on Twitter.

  1. Another statistic is that we have 40 microbreweries that operate in the city, which is the highest per capita in the country, although I’m not sure that is entirely relevant to independent software development so much as just something that’s awesome. 
  2. I like to describe myself as your stereotypical northwest liberal elite. 
  3. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. 

The US Treasury’s Debt Limit Page

The United States Treasury:

The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments. The debt limit does not authorize new spending commitments. It simply allows the government to finance existing legal obligations that Congresses and presidents of both parties have made in the past.

I do not understand the confusion here or why you can explain this to the same people over and over and have them still not understand it.

Valve’s SteamOS

Valve (the people who made Portal, Half-Life, Team Fortress 2) are making their own OS. They’re also going to ship two of their own consoles: a $100 box that streams games from your computer, and a $300 one that’s standalone.

Steam is already extremely popular, and has a TV-centric mode, so if they can take that mode and get rid of the whole needing other people’s OS to run Steam games thing, this seems like it could really work. I’m not sure it changes Nintendo’s situation that much (which is not great), since their success is based more on creating fun games with unique gameplay, but if I were Microsoft or Sony, I’d be shitting myself.

The Verge has a big article on the whole thing.

The Startup T-Shirt Stereotype

Braid Lab’s own Jason Corwin questions whether t-shirts are a worthwhile investment for startups on in a post titled “The Startup T-Shirt Stereotype.”

You’re at the bottom of the barrel, nothing left to wear, and you’re forced to dig into the dresser equivalent of a junk-drawer. A graveyard of shirts, it’s almost like having your own personal crunchbase in your dresser.

Stickers on the other hand? No question. Yes. My house is primarily decorated by various Octocat variations and stickers from my friends companies.

Introducing My New Company: Braid Labs

I’ve been a bit quieter the last couple of months on my blog and Twitter, and it’s not for no reason. Since the beginning of June I’ve been working on a new project with a team in San Francisco (I go back and forth), and I wanted to wait to talk until I had part of it to show. First though, let me tell you about the team and why I was so excited to work with them.

(Short version: I have a new app I’m working on with a team, we made a Passbook pass, and you should go get it.)

The Team

I’ve known my friend Zain — who’s been a longtime Django developer — for about four years. We met around the time that I had just spoken at the first or second 360iDev, and Zain at DjangoCon, before having a crazy fun time hanging out in Boulder Colorado for a couple of days. We’ve been friends ever since, and in between Zain went through Y Combinator, worked for Trulia, been a big Django contributor and continuously worked on neat things. He’s absolutely one of my favorite people. Which is why — even though I’d never considered doing this sort of thing before — when he told me he had a new company he was working on and they needed a fourth guy who was an iOS developer to be a founder, I was interested to find out more.

The other two guys are Jason and Idan, who are also Python developers (everyone on the team has a technical background). Jason handles the business side of things, and also helps Zain with developing the backend for our app. I’d describe him as one of the nicest and most immediately likable people I’ve ever met. Idan works on design, and if you’ve ever worked with someone who considers their designs sacrosanct and is unwilling to consider the opinions of others, then something like the opposite of that is Idan. He’s a great designer and will absolutely defend things he thinks should be a certain way, but he’s never made me feel as though we weren’t designing the app together. Because I love design myself, and care so much that the end product is the best it can be, most of the times I’ve worked with someone else it’s felt stifling more than anything else. With Idan, I feel like we’re able to collaborate and that our mutual goal is to make the best app possible.

The App

Of course, the best team in the world wouldn’t mean much if I hadn’t also been excited about what we’d be working on. The app is an e-mail client, and it’s called Braid. One of the first decisions I was a part of making was that it would be iOS 7 only, and we’re working hard to get Braid ready for the release. I’ve almost always used Apple’s Mail clients, and although they don’t have the most features, they’ve always worked the best for me. The reason is that everything else I’ve tried that’s different has wanted me to treat my e-mail in a special way to take advantage of it, or tack a bunch of things onto e-mail that don’t feel like they belong. Braid is about making e-mail better, not about fundamentally changing the way you think about it or turning your inbox into a to-do list.

One way we’re doing that is with our follow-up feature. Follow-up in Braid isn’t about pushing things out for a specified amount of time regardless of what happens between now and then, it’s about saying “If I don’t hear back from this person by a certain date, remind me to follow-up.” You tell Braid to do this at the time that you send your message, because usually that’s the time when you have the most context for what’s going on with this person. Instead of turning your inbox into a to-do list, we’re giving you an additional “waiting for” list. To us that’s a lot more useful, because the alternatives have always been flagging/starring messages — which have limited context — and apps that continuously pop the same messages up over and over again in your inbox, turning it into a to-do list.

Add to Passbook

The app can’t come out until iOS 7 does, but we wanted to give people who are interested something sooner. So today, you can add us to your Passbook. It’s be the best way keep up to date with us, and we’ll even periodically send you interesting stats about your e-mail (and possibly other goodies). Go to our website from your Mac or iOS device, select “Get a Pass”, login with Gmail and we’ll show right up in your Passbook.