How One Start-Up Star Plots Portland’s Tech Future

A digital archiving start-up joins the big leagues—complete with the requisite office kegerator.

By Marty Patail April 27, 2015 Published in the May 2015 issue of Portland Monthly


$27 million in 2014

Satellite offices
New York, Boston, Atlanta, London, Los Angeles

The new downtown HQ: 47,640 sq ft 

When Stephen Marsh moved his digital archiving start-up north from San Francisco in 2005, our Silicon Forest consisted of a few stands of hulking, suburb-based old growth: Intel, Tektronix, HP. The central city was not well geared for high tech: Smarsh’s servers strained the power capacity at its office in the Umpqua Bank Building on SW Columbia Street.

“After two weeks in the space, we started blowing fuses, including the one that ran the copier for the people below us,” recalls Marsh. “We’d have to go down there with our tail between our legs and knock on the door and say, ‘We blew the fuse again.’”

A decade later, in a city where the tech scene is now defined by a mushrooming start-up community of scrappy independent companies, Marsh, 39, is a respected elder statesman, and Smarsh has all it needs to run smoothly and grow rapidly. Earlier this year, his company moved 125 employees from dark, labyrinthine headquarters in the Pittock Building into a remodeled three-floor space overlooking Pioneer Courthouse Square, complete with a bar-size lounge and kegerator, an indoor park, and arcade machines.

“We’ve had employees tell us they’d rather be here than at home,” says Marsh, “not just to work, but because there are more spaces, more areas to get comfortable.”

Smarsh’s fun new surroundings house a serious mission. The company provides the digital storage space for legal, health, and financial firms—like AIG and ONESCO—all required by law to archive every single e-mail, document, and text message they send or receive. Smarsh’s software is a silent filter, capturing and storing communications for retrieval if ever needed. So far in 2015, the company has archived and encrypted about 2.4 billion messages for its 20,000 customers, and expects to store 5.7 billion more by year’s end. 

Marsh hopes to use his company’s new playground as a common area for Portland’s other start-ups, hosting networking, brainstorming, and recruiting events. Noting his own company’s many empty workstations, Marsh says that the city needs fresh tech blood—though he notes that the scene has come a long way.

“It’s gotten much easier to get people to move to Portland,” he says. “There’s better access to strong tech talent now than there’s ever been.” 

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