I am a “Young Entrepreneur” in Greater Portland. Let’s talk.


As my friend and BDN reporter Seth Koening reported in his blog earlier this month:

“NerdWallet, one in a burgeoning field of finance websites churning out shareable content these days, has released its ranking of the country’s best cities for young entrepreneurs. [They] determined the Portland-South Portland area was a healthy No. 19 in America.”

Daniel MacLeod, another friend and another BDN colleague, pointed out that I have a blog, am an entrepreneur, and have a flare for “telling it like it is” (I may have added that last part), and so he encouraged me to start sharing my experience, and those experiences in my proximity. What is it actually like to be a young entrepreneur in the Portland-South Portland area?

So basically, every week I will take a look at an issue my business faces, ruminate on that issue, and talk with other entrepreneurs in the area to get a sense of what they’re going through. And sometimes I will talk with elected officials, other times I’ll talk with academics. I want to offer as clear a sense as possible about what we go through as entrepreneurs based here, what the community goes through overall, and how this fits into the larger picture of “young entrepreneurship” here in Greater Portland. I will share the ups and downs; I will share the good, the bad, the banal, and the ugly.

And so it begins.

We should start with a little bit about me so that you can know what lens this will come from. 

I run a business based in Portland called Knack Factory. We are a content production company. This means we are video producers, photographers, and communications and marketing specialists. We differ from, say, a business that focuses strictly on videography or photography in that we have the skill sets and tools necessary to oversee productions small and large. Yes, we can shoot an event, or something small when that’s all you need, but we can also shoot a commercial, documentary, feature, or anything in between.

We are three partners, one employee, a number of contractors (folks we work with very regularly), other agencies we occasionally team with, and a pretty extended work family. Our clients are large and global (we work with companies like MasterCard and other internationally recognized brands) and small and local (restaurants and other businesses we love seeing in our back yard).

A few caveats that I’m sure will turn into larger, more thoroughly thought through posts in the future:

  • We are a small business (at present) and while young, we are not a startup. We are a service agency. Producing a ground-breaking app or scaling up super fast to sell is not in our cards in the immediate future. We tend to conflate the concept of “startup” with the term entrepreneur, which I am, but again, I run a small business and there’s definitely a difference. I will occasionally cover the “startup” space (puke noise), but not from a personal perspective. [Points of Clarification: It’s the word “space” that drives me bonkers, not “startup” by any means. Also! I am already learning new things. From my friend Jess Knox at Maine Startup and Create Week: “Not all startups are built to sell. The vast majority of companies on the inc 500 list are bootstrapped and have 40% average growth over a three year period.” So I’m wrong; we are a startup.]
  • Some primary objectives of starting Knack Factory was to make money and, with that money, invest it into making creative content we are interested in. Clients that pay us well don’t usually pay us to make exactly what we want to make, and so we make those things on our own. Often, that creative work brings attention back to our company. When done intentionally, this is called “content marketing.” This is something that will get a bit of attention.
  • While we didn’t receive funding—we started with “sweat equity,” as it were, I will talk a great deal about funding and money generally. We will also look into how we started, how that starting with sweat equity was possible, how other businesses financed their beginnings, and what money exists in the community.
  • We will explore relationship dynamics from all perspectives, both within the business and between the business, clients, vendors and other everybody else.
  • I am not inherently a free-marketeer and this occasionally puts me at odds with the Startup Über Alles crowd. For example, I was in favor of Congress Square Park and while I disagreed with Soul of Portland on their “scenic Portland” referendum, this was a matter of logistics and not philosophy. I feel like a lot of work needs to be done to foster existence between a vibrant culture-culture and business culture. While I have very specific ideas and feelings about this, I will talk with folks from a diversity of backgrounds and points of view.
  • I am a white man. My partners are as well. This is inherently a point of privilege that others in the community feel weird about addressing. While I know this makes other white men (and people in positions of relative privilege) uncomfortable to talk about because talking about it might lead to discussing resultant responsibilities, this is something that will be addressed here and there throughout this series. What is the role and impact of diversity and the lack thereof in our experience and the community at large? How do we advance and fall behind based on these realities? 

A long winded start, but I am really looking forward to this.

What do you think we should explore here?

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.