Life Beyond Reed (continued)

Michael Richardson ’07

Senior Director of Product, Urban Airship, Portland

In 2009, a Portland startup named Vidoop went broke and software engineer Michael Richardson was out of a job. He signed up for a special Oregon state program that provides unemployment benefits to entrepreneurs, and launched Urban Airship together with three former coworkers. 

From a fledgling startup, Urban Airship now employs 180 at its Portland headquarters, providing push notifications, in-app messaging, and location targeting on mobile devices. If you rely on your smart phone to tell you about Arsenal’s goal or remind you to refill your prescription, chances are good that UA is behind it.

Raised in rural Idaho, Richardson credits Reed with broadening his worldview and strengthening his critical thinking. “I thought Reed would make me a better person, and it did.”

Thesis: Stumptown Under Scrutiny: Who Votes in Portland, Oregon. Adviser: Prof. Paul Gronke [poli sci 2001–]

Have you always been an entrepreneur? When I was about five years old, I wanted money to play video games at a store in town. So I sold twigs as kindling and pretty rocks out on the sidewalk. Every time someone took pity on me and paid me a quarter, I’d run into the store to play, then rush back out to the sidewalk to make more money.

What was the worst job you ever had? In high school I came up with the idea with some friends of starting a catering business—a fine concept in a city, but not such a great idea in a town of 800. It was an excellent lesson in market demand and supply.

What was your first job after Reed? I interned in Portland City Hall for Commissioner Sam Adams [who was later elected mayor]. My first job was doing technology for a political consulting firm, combining my interest in politics and programming. For a while I worked for a tiny start-up named Bac'n. We sold bacon.

You worked at Vidoop, which eventually crashed. What did you take away from that experience? We tried to learn as much as possible from a terrible experience. The biggest thing for me was the value of integrity and critical thinking in business. You can’t get away with convincing yourself something is true; you have to prove it out.

What does a senior director of product actually do? I manage the roadmap for the company, basically.

How do you handle the pressures of the startup world? I don’t know how else to be. I just can’t imagine operating in a world where there wasn’t something always on the line. 

What advice do you give budding entrepreneurs? Keep yourself grounded in reality, but don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Constantly expose yourself to new ideas and different ways of thinking, and when the right thing happens, it will be obvious to you.