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. 
Collin Donnell @collin